Players current and former are blasting the NFL's helmet rule, but will it lead to the league making a hasty change?
The NFL is a fascinating entity in that it’s politically savvy enough to jam through potentially unpopular legislation just like the most seasoned congressmen, but it’s also skittish enough to do the Scooby Doo runaway at the first sign of trouble.
Remember the ill-fated anthem policy, which was announced in late May and frozen indefinitely on July 20? Could we be headed down a similar path with the new helmet rule?
The tackling directive, passed back in March and taught during educational sessions, “webinars and conference calls” between the league and each coach and club, has been unpopular among a loud but undefined segment of the NFL defensive player population.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman whipped up a windstorm on Sunday, essentially hitting on all the griping points of his fellow Twitter-using defensive players by saying “There is no ‘make adjustment’ to the way you tackle. Even in a perfect form tackle the body is led by the head. The rule is idiotic And should be dismissed immediately. When you watch rugby players tackle they are still lead by their head. Will be flag football soon.”
Of course, the rant makes no mention of the increased number of diagnosed concussions—the reason this initiative was spearheaded in the first place. Or the fact that six coaches, two of whom (Mike Vrabel and Todd Bowles) played defense at the NFL level and one (Anthony Lynn) who was an NFL running back, were involved in discussions surrounding the rule’s implementation. From Jenny Vrentas’s story in May:
[Nine] percent of NFL players suffered diagnosed concussions last season, sparking Sills to issue a “call to action” in a Head, Neck and Spine Committee meeting in February. According to McKay, film review of those 291 concussions showed that 57 of those plays would have been flagged under the new lowering-the-helmet rule, a number that didn’t even include such fouls within the tackle box—a strong indication of how dangerous this specific behavior is on the football field.
The difference between other significant leaps the NFL has taken toward a modern game in the past and what it’s doing now is timing and exposure. Thirty years ago, an instant social media network full of verified players (and former players, and media and other megaphone types) hollering at every instance of perceived injustice toward the game’s violent roots during the testing stages didn’t exist. Nor did a president who plans on building a large part of his reelection platform on how the league and its anthem kneelers have gotten soft.
Wait until he gets a hold of the flag football line.
Sherman’s point of view is completely understandable, and that’s the difficult part in all of this. No one with an actual, sincere stake in this decision is wrong – not the people who have digested the health and safety information and are trying to make a difference, not the players who are worried about doing their job and earning a living and not the coaches who have a legitimate interest in both a safer game and a set of rules his players can actually comprehend.
Modern windstorms have exposed the NFL’s flimsiness in the past. What will the latest one bring?
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The NFL regular season kicks off in 17 days. The anthem policy is still in the works. The helmet-leading rule hot takes are only just beginning. We see into the midnight in front of us.
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