Taking the head out of the game

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June 20, 2018 by adamburt13

Written by Adam Burt

The NFL has been viewed as one of the grittiest sports leagues out there dating back to the 50’s and 60’s when it really began to become popularized. However after decades of this game being around and it evolving year to year, the game of football that many love, have played growing up, and have fond memories of, has changed drastically into an entirely different game. Take that how you want to, some find the game better and more safe than it ever has been while others just wish they had the old game of football that they know and love back.

Unfortunately it’s been a very difficult time for players and those involved with the league to try and find a middle ground and work out problems regarding safety, and even settling political differences. Player safety has always been one of the leagues biggest points of concern for obvious reasons. Over the years there have been many former players or their family members who have come forward and said they wish said player would have retired sooner in their careers, that they suffer in pain years after stepping away from the game. And then there’s others that swear to this day that they loved the game how it used to be and knew the risks of playing such a physical game. The players with this mindset don’t regret a single snap or a single day that they tightened up the chinstrap and laid their bodies on the line for the guy next to them.

But regardless of what side a player or fan may take when it comes to these rules, we have no choice really but to accept that the NFL simply has to do the right thing to protect its players. Which brings me to the topic of this blog. If you as a football fan got upset or annoyed with how much the NFL went to replay for things before, just wait until we get underway into the 2018 season. This offseason there was a new rule implemented for the 2018 season that states,

“Lowering the head to initiate contact with the helmet is a foul.” 

NFL owners unanimously approved this rule change and I honestly fear that it’s going to be insane how much it will effect how games are officiated. This is a rule that really effects players on both sides of the ball. As a defensive player you can’t just spear someone with the crown of your helmet, and as an offensive ball carrier you can’t lower your head in an attempt to knock back a defender. 

But doesn’t this seem like a win for defenders? Stopping the run game just became a whole lot easier if running backs can’t truck defenders head on anymore. Now backs simply have to rely on blocks falling into place, hitting the open field and having a variety of juke moves and maybe a solid stiff arm. Then there’s others who believe we should just throw flags on guys because it’s getting hard to make a physical tackle in today’s game on defense. A few players for example took to social media to voice their opinions on the newest rule change. 

Star defensive back of the San Francisco 49ers Richard Sherman also shared his feelings about the newest rule change stating, “It’s ridiculous, like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re going to get a ticket.” So there’s many players who are very uncomfortable with this rule change especially on the defensive side knowing that even by mistake it could cost them a good amount of money and possibly a suspension. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke on the latest rule change saying, “Our intent is to make sure we go to each team and we have game tape, we have all the analysis and work that’s been done and communicate that to the players.” Commissioner Goodell continued on and later stated, “I’d give them the opportunity first to understand what it is before we make a lot of judgments about the ramifications.” He basically continued on taking questions and then left everybody with the main goal that he and the league have in mind with this rule stating, 

“We can take the head out of the game. We do want to make sure that certain techniques are used. They’re not in the best interest of the game.”

In my opinion I would say the main thing that really led to the NFL pulling the trigger on this new rule was a game played between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals during a Monday night football matchup late in the 2017 season. In this game there was a lot of bad blood and some serious injuries that took place, the most serious being Pittsburgh’s star ILB Ryan Shazier getting stretchered off of the field with a spinal injury due to him leading with his helmet to make a tackle on a Bengals wideout. Later in the game was another illegal hit by Pittsburgh WR JuJu Smith-Schuster who laid a huge hit across the middle of the field on a known to be dirty Bengals player Vontaze Burfict. After the hit JuJu stood over Burfict taunting him and Burfict had to also be stretchered off of the field in this game. Then towards the end of the game Bengals safety George Iloka had a hit to the neck/head area of Steelers WR Antonio Brown in the back of the end zone which also got Iloka penalized.

(Highlights and hits from Steelers vs Bengals)

So clearly there are many reasons and factors that led the league to make this rule change. In my opinion that game was just the icing on the cake. It’s going to be a tough learning curve for both players and officials going into next season. And as much as it pains me as a fan who likes the old school style of football and being someone who agrees more with the logic of keeping football how it used to be, I’m starting to realize that the NFL has to make these changes to protect themselves from potential lawsuits and the risk of not having the league exist years down the line. 

I hate it, but it’s a new era. I couldn’t even imagine if guys like Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor, Steve Atwater, Jack Lambert, John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, Ray Lewis, to give a few examples were still playing in today’s game, they would be kicked out of the league without question or at least be handing over a healthy portion of their paychecks to the league. 

The fact of the matter is it’s simply not the NFL that it used to be, but the league is in the middle of trying to find a middle ground to please all parties involved. For the fans it’s going to be a tough season all year long so be ready for it, because not only is this rule change going to be extremely controversial and extend games because of officials constantly going to replay, but we also now have to try and determine from home what’s dirty and what’s not when in reality we still haven’t really found out what a catch is in 2018. This league overall is in a pretty interesting spot, and it’s not a spot that’s very ideal to be in. 

Just be ready now that I’ve warned you.

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