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March 20, 2013

The Verdict is in: Running Backs Can No Longer Lower Their Helmets in the NFL

by Sam Ranard

Every sporting event is a game of laws. With referees and umpires acting as Judges, just like a court case, each game is based on rules. We frequently watch our favorite teams pass or fail based on the final judgment made by the referees. The referees, like judges, use the relevant facts and apply the elements of each rule to make game changing decisions. We cheer, we boo and we hiss based on these decisions. At times, the referees must convene when applying a rule when a specific situation becomes tricky.

helmetBut the game of rules does not stop on the field. Off the field is where the rules are created. The rules, like laws, are always evolving and changing.  Public policy and productive rhetoric push lawmakers towards new rules and regulations. For example, some sports allow the introduction of video evidence (instant replay) to help influence a referee’s final judgment, a new addition to an ever advancing world.

Today was a big day for the NFL. With concussions and player safety at the forefront of NFL policy debates, a controversial rule was put into actionNFL running backs are no longer allowed to lower thier helmets. The punishment: a 15-yard penalty. This fundamental part of the game, an almost natural right given to each player, has been banned.

helmet 2The NFL didnt just arbitrarily put this rule into place. The decision was left to a vote by each of the 32 NFL teams. The vote came back 31-1, with only the Cincinnati Bengals voting against the helmet lowering rule. A lot of fans are upset, or at least unsure about the rule. Former Cowboy Emmit Smith is outraged.

Personally, I am bafffled. As one NFL Hall of Famer put it, “Lowering your helmet is a natural reaction, this rule will never work. It is too hard to call. If someone is running at you, you lower your head. It is like when someone tries to slap you in the face, you put your hand up to guard yourself without thinking. It is a reaction. You have to protect your  self and your neck.”

With a huge lawsuit pending related to player safety, the NFL is trying to do everything they can to make a violent game safe. But is banning a player from lowering their helmet the answer? Will it make the game any safer? Will middle-school coaches now be teaching their players to run with their heads straight up – exposing their necks, rib cage and organs?

 

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