The new NFL rule that bans a player from lowering his head to make contact with his helmet is going to be a mess. There will be plays on which a linebacker, say, instinctively will do what he has always done. That’s to bring his opponent down. There won’t always be time, not on the fly, to adjust and raise his head.
The league is still figuring out how to apply the rule. The penalty will be 15 yards. If the penalty is egregious, as it now stands, officials can kick the player out of the game. The NFL Competition Committee will assess it, solicit input and attempt to figure it out in time for the league’s spring meeting next month in Atlanta.
The helmet rule will be awkward to enforce because, like holding, officials are unlikely to catch it every time or even rule in a uniform way. Although players will have the spring and summer to adjust, they’ll struggle to undo what often is a habit.
But you hope players adjust, and you hope that kids and high school and college players notice.
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Some fans, and certainly some players, will complain that this is one more step in softening a once great game. They miss the good old days.
Yet in the good old days, CTE was nothing more than three upper case letters. We all know what CTE is now. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease. The result of multiple head injuries, it can lead to confusion and memory loss, depression, dementia and, perhaps, suicide.
Maybe the people that run the NFL are really good guys (and women) and care deeply about their athletes. Maybe they don’t want to get sued again.
Whatever the motivation, the game will go on despite the new rule, and we’ll watch. You really think the Carolina Panthers’ Thomas Davis and Kawann Short and Luke Kuechly and Julius Peppers and Mario Addison are going to stop making tackles that entice us to jump and shout?
The new rule will, at least at first, be a mess. Perhaps, over time, the brains of the players won’t be.