Editor’s note: This is a closer look at one of three player health and safety-related rules proposals for the 2013 NFL season. NFL owners will vote on the proposals during the NFL Annual Meeting, which runs Sunday through Wednesday in Phoenix.
PROPOSED RULE: A ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle.
What the proposal would change: A 15-yard penalty would be called if a runner or a tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle-to-tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.
Why the proposal is being made: The NFL is trying to avoid concussions at all costs, so this rule would make it illegal for players to use their helmets as weapons. Using the helmet on hits against receivers is already illegal, so this is the next logical step.
How it would impact player health and safety: Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, said Thursday: “We really think the time has come that we need to address the situation in space when a runner or a tackler has a choice as to how they are going to approach the opponent. We are going to say that you can’t make that choice ducking your head and delivering a blow, a forcible blow, with the top crown of your helmet. We are trying to protect the runner or the tackler from himself in that instance.”
What people are saying about it: The proposed rule didn’t go over well with one Hall of Fame running back. Said Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher: “As a running back, it’s almost impossible (to not lower your head). The first thing you do is get behind your shoulder pads. That means you’re leaning forward and the first part of contact that’s going to take place is your head, regardless. I disagree with the rule altogether. It doesn’t make any sense for that position. It sounds like it’s been made up by people who have never played the game of football.”
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor