Heads Up Football is smart, despite the NFL’s dumb new helmet rule.
“It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips and lower body is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space — as opposed to close line play — but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.”
What’s that old adage — you have to admit you have a problem before you can fix said problem?
The NFL first got on record in 1994 as to the possibility that football could cause traumatic brain injuries, with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue creating the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee. The lead doctor Tagliabue put in charge of studying the issue was Elliot Pellman, the New York Jets’ team doctor, who was not even a neurologist — he was a rheumatologist.
Over the past 24 years, we now know the league knew of this problem well before going on record, as the PBS documentary “League of Denial” lays out, and the movie “Concussion” so poignantly portrayed with the real-life attempts by forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu to expose the lies of the NFL.
Much of what the NFL has done over time has been to limit its liability from the class-action lawsuits it was sure to be hit with. In 2013, the first class-action suits were settled for $765 million. But the federal judge overseeing the case did not feel it was enough to provide for the more than 20,000 ex-NFL players involved in the suit. That settlement was revised in 2015 to pay out more than $1 billion.
Around 2012, Heads Up Football was started by USA Football with a strong push to teach children the correct and safest possible way to play tackle football from middle schools to high schools. As the name implies, this effort was properly aimed at curtailing the usage of the helmet to initiate contact.
The logic behind this effort is undeniable. Even with this sincere effort by those at USA Football, the sport faces gigantic challenges from moms and dads who are simply putting their foot down and saying no to their children playing football.
But this effort is a teaching process. You cannot simply tell kids — who are today’s youngest NFL players — that you have to take the head out of the equation. This is a generation that seven to eight years ago was watching ESPN shows brought to you by your favorite beers that celebrated violent, helmet-led hits of the week.
That leads us to the NFL and its strategy to take the helmet hits out of the game. What we are seeing now are the new 15-yard penalties called on any hits led with the helmet. This rule known simply as the new helmet rule is the logical expansion of its predecessor — the 2013 “crown of the helmet” rule, which outlawed all helmet-led contact unless it was in the tackle box.
Part of my issue with these rules — and let me state it quite clearly — is that I am overall in favor of any and all attempts to go back to the proper techniques of tackle football, which have nothing to do with helmet-led hits. It seems that 95 percent, or almost exclusively, it’s the defensive player that the flag is thrown on, even when replays show it is the offensive ball carrier who puts his helmet down first.
But what is especially irksome about the new helmet rule is the immediacy in which a rule, which until now was never deemed an illegal play, is now a 15-yard penalty with an automatic first down attached.
What would have made far more sense to me is to have truly made this rule an attempt to teach and not punish. I feel the yardage and first down attached really do nothing in the teaching effort.
A far better plan to this fan would have been a three-year introduction of a rule this important along with escalating yardage penalties. In year one I’d have started with it being a 5-yard penalty with no first down; in year two I’d have stepped it up to a 10-yard penalty with it being a first down only if deemed excessive.
Finally after two seasons of trying to teach Heads Up at the pro level, I’d have made it a 15-yard penalty with the automatic first down.
The way the league rolled this out as such a significant penalty will simply infuriate a fan base that needs as much educating as the players and the officials on the field.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is founder and publisher of PressBox.