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League releases guidelines regarding hitting

At a time when the media and multiple players have failed to provide NFL fans with clear information regarding prohibited and permitted actions when it comes to hitting in football and only one day after Commissioner Roger Goodell missed an opportunity to provide a clear statement regarding the line between aggressive football action and a violation of the rules during an on-air interview with ESPN’s Michele Tafoya, the league has released to the media its “Player Safety” guidelines.

These are not the official rules, but the document that explains what the rules allow and forbid, including diagrams of illegal hits.  It was included in the 2010 League Policies for Players manual, which is distributed to all players and coaches at the opening of training camp.  (And which, unfortunately, is actually read by likely less than one percent of its recipients.)

“We hope this information is helpful in understanding the NFL’s player safety-related rules,” NFL V.P. of football communications Michael Signora wrote in the e-mail accompanying the document.  “There has been no change in rules since the start of the season, only an increase in the level of discipline for violations of existing rules.”

The rules are fairly simple.  Defenseless players can’t be hit in the helmet or neck area, and they can’t be struck with a helmet in any area of the body. 

Defenseless players include:  (a) a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass; (b) a receiver catching or attempting to catch a pass; (c) a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped; (d) a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air; and (e) a player on the ground at the end of a play.

Also, a receiver who has completed a catch (i.e., two feet down and a “football move”) and who has not had time to protect himself cannot be struck in head, neck, or face via a launch, even if the initial contact occurs at a point lower than the neck of the receiver.

As we’ve recently pointed out, hitting a ball carrier with the helmet or in the helmet is not prohibited, unless the use of the helmet amounts to spearing.  It’s a know-it-when-you-see-it distinction.  Players routinely dip their helmets/facemasks into a tackle, while still seeing their target.  Helmet-to-helmet contact resulting from that maneuver is allowed.  Dropping the helmet and ramming the top of it into an opponent constitutes spearing, a maneuver now rarely seen in football at any level because of the high risk of compression — and fracture — of the spine.

Hopefully, members of the media will come up with effective strategies for weaving this information into the coverage of NFL games.  For now, the P.R. battle is being won by the skirts-and-flag-football crowd, with too little clear and accurate information being provided to fans who would be inclined to argue in response that the league is targeting only a narrow window of hits that entail enhanced risk of injury.

Big hits are still allowed, as Bengals Terrell Owens learned Monday night when Steelers safety Troy Polamalu flattened T.O. with a clean shoulder hit to the midsection.  Owens bounced right up; all too often, receivers who take that kind of a hit to the head don’t.

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31 Responses to “League releases guidelines regarding hitting”
  1. Lionwulf says: Nov 10, 2010 12:54 AM

    If I understand this correctly, Mr. Polamalu might get fined for that hit on T.O. He “launched” himself at T.O. before he “had time to protect himself” and was hit in the upper chest to shoulder area. If he is fined I’ll be disappointed, most fans would view that as a clean hit.

  2. TweedleDum says: Nov 10, 2010 12:56 AM

    Not a bad blog for once……though I’m curious, why did you tag it with Steelers and not the Bengals since both are mentioned?
    Seems Florio is being blatantly obvious when his bias against the Steelers!

  3. williamsbros says: Nov 10, 2010 1:32 AM

    The “skirts-and-flag-football crowd” are winning the P.R. battle because most people AGREE with them, myself included. We were given another piece of ammunition this week when the flag on the Austin Collie hit came out about several seconds after the play was over, when it was apparent he was hurt.
    The rules may be clear-cut, but the application by the officials has been very arbitrary. The fact remains that some of these illegal hits are unavoidable when you’re trying to hit a guy running a 4.3 in the open field. And Florio, it doesn’t matter if guys were taught the “correct” way since high school or not, some “illegal” hits are just unavoidable.

  4. CaptainFantastik says: Nov 10, 2010 1:35 AM

    Meanwhile, running backs are free to use their helmets as weapons and spear defenders with them at will without consequence. The college game is the only pure form of high level football left.

  5. lawboy2000 says: Nov 10, 2010 1:38 AM

    The NFL took a big step forward this week by distinguishing the Nick Collins hit from the Austin Collie collision.
    This was the second week that Polamalu laid a Ronnie Lott style hit on a WR. Last week it was Colston. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, neither hit was enough to dislodge the ball or intimidate these particular WRs. At least they were unquestionably legal.

  6. Mel Kiper IV says: Nov 10, 2010 1:44 AM

    Wow, Roger Badell is really making his/her mark on the league. Butkus, Nitzke and LT among others have to be offended. They played a man’s game. The NFL is turning into a touch football “Nancy Boy” League. Steer your kids that have talent into baseball, basketball or any other sport that will still have dignity left in 2 years…That would be anything but football (NFL Football). FYI- The CFL players are still allowed to play like men…

  7. bspurloc says: Nov 10, 2010 1:56 AM

    so where is the rule for when a dude catches a ball turns up field, secures the ball, crouches down for the hit…… gets slammed by 2 guys fumbles the ball away…..
    and is called a defenseless receiver by the refs?

  8. Mister Shister says: Nov 10, 2010 1:56 AM

    So if a receiver lowers his head in the action of catching the ball, he may not be hit in the head or neck area.
    Something LoFlo claimed yesterday was perfectly legal.

  9. rsa says: Nov 10, 2010 2:01 AM

    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    A player who can duck his head or body in anticipation of an impending hit is not defenseless.
    No matter what Ray Anderson says.

  10. HolyMoly says: Nov 10, 2010 2:58 AM

    Btw, did anyone notice that Kurt Warner got cut from DWTS and yet that mindless talentless pig Bristol Palin is still on it? I never watch that show anyway because it sucks but I’m mad Kurt Warner got cut.

  11. contract says: Nov 10, 2010 3:35 AM

    “The rules are fairly simple. Defenseless players can’t be hit in the helmet or neck area, and they can’t be struck with a helmet in any area of the body. ”
    There is nothing “simple” about making a defender responsible for the actions of his opponent.
    “As we’ve recently pointed out, hitting a ball carrier with the helmet or in the helmet is not prohibited, unless the use of the helmet amounts to spearing. It’s a know-it-when-you-see-it distinction.”
    Well, as long as it’s simple and clear.
    “Hopefully, members of the media will come up with effective strategies for weaving this information into the coverage of NFL games.”
    You want them to weave that jumbled mess you just posted into their coverage? The nonsense you just posted makes defenders responsible for determining when a ball carrier’s forward progress is stopped … even though they have no say in the matter.
    The “simple rules” you keep harping about make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
    Kurt Coleman just escaped a fine because another defender drove Collie into his hit … which completely undermines the part of the rule that makes the defender responsible for what he hits. If a 2nd defender had not been involved, Coleman would have been fined because Collie ducked his head right into the shot.

  12. LowVoltage says: Nov 10, 2010 5:11 AM

    ” For now, the P.R. battle is being won by the skirts-and-flag-football crowd…”
    Roger Goodell feels sure that just one average LB hit on pansy -wansy Florio would eliminate this critic for several months or more.

  13. gameday says: Nov 10, 2010 5:40 AM

    The NFL has has become nothing more than scripted entertainment.
    I for one have sold off my season ticket rights to a couple of teams, and did not renew on others. I still watch on TV from time to time but not as much as in the past.
    But give the NFL credit where it is due. The WWE has made Jim and Linda McMahon very rich with it’s predetermined outcomes, “rivalries”, and scripted story lines.
    Goodell and the NFL must have decided it’s time to become competitors with the WWE.
    Football as we knew it is gone, and it’s just a matter of a couple of years before the average fan can not even buy a ticket to a game(like the Super Bowl now)
    WrestleMania, oops, I meant Super Bowl is reserved for celebrities, politicians, league insiders, and agents and coaches,,ooops, I meant scalpers.
    Soon season tickets will go only to corporations, and get prepared for some home “matches” to be taken away so the European market can be grown.
    The NFL has lost me, I’m out!!!!

  14. LebronJeremy says: Nov 10, 2010 5:58 AM

    Once again, the main reason why people were confused is because the officials don’t enforce the rules consistently. If your name is James Harrison, you will be fined and/or penalized for those plays, while everyone else will only face punishment if they player they tackled is hurt.

  15. Little Tommy says: Nov 10, 2010 6:10 AM

    So make sure you read the freakin manual before you hit anybody!

  16. Little Tommy says: Nov 10, 2010 6:16 AM

    The No Fun League’s problem is consistency of enforcement. Their officials can’t even call holding correctly. How in the world are they going to be effective with all this crap! Writing rules and manuals is one thing…having the game called effectively is something else again and it seems that officials are becoming clueless lately. Ever watch a close play on the goal line? It now takes a committee and 10 replays to verify touchdown or no touchdown! YIKES…gimme a break.

  17. jediwrstlr says: Nov 10, 2010 6:41 AM

    So James Harrison was incorrectly fined. By the definition, he hit the receiver (after the receiver lowered his head) after he caught the ball and made a football move. All the haters are still going to say it was illegal, but by definition, it was legal….Probably why it did not draw a flag.

  18. Goodell Wears Pink Nuthuggers says: Nov 10, 2010 6:51 AM

    Another legal document…great..

  19. SuckitFlorio says: Nov 10, 2010 7:28 AM

    and if TO had been hurt and stayed on the ground that official would have almost certainly thrown out the flag because thats what we have come to… just like with the Collie hit, that ref didnt even reach for the flag till he saw Collie was knocked out.

  20. Slim Charles says: Nov 10, 2010 7:42 AM

    Congrats to Florio on his new job as the league’s mouthpiece.

  21. Laxer37 says: Nov 10, 2010 7:46 AM

    Everything about the rules are fine except the part where the defender is responsible for the sudden movement of the offensive player.
    If head-to-head contact is the result of the receiver ducking his head into the line of fire then common sense should prevail and no fine/penalty should be assesed.
    That is all Harrison has a problem with, and he is right.

  22. Smitty Gill says: Nov 10, 2010 7:47 AM

    Rules, rules, rules……………Nascar is ruling itself out of business, The NBA is ruling itself out of business and the NFL is doing the same. I have stopped watching most of these because the rules are taking the game away.
    Football is a violent sport , ask Y.A.Title, Frank Gifford, Jim Taylor, Alan Ameche, Rosie Grier, Jack Lambert, Conrad Dobler, Dick Butkus, ect, ect, ect. They knew it going in and made a hell of a lot less for for their efforts but they played for the love of the game. Not the money !!!! The Gladiators of yesteryear are gone and now we get to watch a bunch of Millionaire pansies that just want their pearly whites on the T.V. screen and the big contract. Those days are gone and never to be seen again. Guess I can watch the oldies on the NFL Channel where the players where men with distruction on their minds.
    Y. A. Title kneeling on the ground with blood flowing down his face is a classic and the apitomy of the NFL when it was real football.

  23. NoKoolaidCowboy says: Nov 10, 2010 7:59 AM

    Has the league run this pass Troy yet?

  24. SteelTown-6 says: Nov 10, 2010 8:18 AM

    “These are not the official rules, but the document that explains what the rules allow and forbid, including diagrams of illegal hits.”
    In the end it’s all just judgment calls by the idiot officials right? So what’s the point of even reading this crap?
    We’ve already seen, repeatedly, that you can do it right, and STILL be flagged and fined.

  25. bednarik60 says: Nov 10, 2010 8:50 AM

    “Also, a receiver who has completed a catch (i.e., two feet down and a “football move”) and who has not had time to protect himself cannot be struck in head, neck, or face via a launch, even if the initial contact occurs at a point lower than the neck of the receiver.”
    I hope you’re not referring to Collie. The league didn’t (yet) fine Coleman, and I think lowering your head to “truck” constitutes “time to protect oneself”.

  26. steelersmichele says: Nov 10, 2010 10:01 AM

    So why isn’t the offensive player in trouble when he lowers his head? He sees the defensive guy coming and lowers his head to deliver a blow.
    Of course it’s NEVER the offensive players fault for anything. If he puts his head down the defensive player gets blamed.
    Makes me glad I have Hines Ward on my team. Since he’s on offense, if he puts his head down to block or hit someone, he should NEVER get in trouble since he’s on offense.

  27. Rhode Island Patriots Fan says: Nov 10, 2010 10:03 AM

    No doubt, some of the confusion in the NFL community is owing to the fact that the NFL is only now enforcing these longstanding rules—many of which I am already aware of—with new, enhanced penalties. I enthusiastically support that effort, so I’m certainly not a member of the “skirts-and-flag-football crowd.”
    My objection has been—and continues to be— two-fold. First, INCONSISTENT ENFORCEMENT of punishment for initial contact in the neck or head area with a forearm, shoulder or helmet. And second, the occasional LACK OF COMMON SENSE OR GOOD JUDGMENT when identifying these types of infractions, which only enhances the perception that the league is overreacting in certain cases.

  28. FinFan6886 says: Nov 10, 2010 10:15 AM

    If the offensive player ducks his head and there is helmet-to-helmet contact…fine the offensive player since he is the one that iniated the illegal part of the hit.
    Just keep the rules simple and the BS interpretations will go away. Under no circumstances can any player (offense or defense) lead with the crown of the helmet and strike another player. Simple. Only thing that can be interpreted differently is the “crown” of the helmet.
    The NFL says that it is about the safety of the players…nope, just the safety of certain players (the ones fans want to see; the ones that generate $$$) Carson Palmer was hit low and injured during a playoff game…nothing happened, until…Tom Brady (NFL golden boy that generates $$) suffers the same injury. After Brady got hurt (in the season opener) the league changed the rules. It is about money not safety.

  29. SayWhat? says: Nov 10, 2010 10:40 AM

    “Big hits are still allowed, as Bengals Terrell Owens learned Monday night when Steelers safety Troy Polamalu flattened T.O. with a clean shoulder hit to the midsection. Owens bounced right up; all too often, receivers who take that kind of a hit to the head don’t.”
    I thought you said T.O. was hit to the midsection? How is that a hit to the head? Well thought out sentences make more sense.

  30. Mike says: Nov 10, 2010 11:19 AM

    God I’m so sick of this. You think if NASCAR said that racers would get fined $50,000 for crashes that it wouldn’t take away excitement from the races? If NHL players were required to hit only when players are not defenseless, you think that won’t hurt the sport?
    It’s the excitement of the game. These players know the risks when they go out there on the field. Tell your QB to stop putting you in situations where you’re going to get demolished, or tell your QB to keep doing it because you’re a man and can take the hit for the team.
    So sick of this BS

  31. Deb says: Nov 11, 2010 12:12 PM

    Those of us who’ve been watching the game longer than five minutes knew this information already. I expect Troy Polamalu and James Harrison knew it, too. I didn’t read anything here I didn’t know.

    The confusion began for me when the league said it was changing the level of discipline. Isn’t there already a rule in place that allows for player ejection??? Yet that rule have never been invoked??? And suddenly the league started talking about suspension??? That created confusion.

    Then James Harrison was fined extra when all the hoopla started for being a “repeat” offender even though his earlier infraction was for a gang hit not for this kind of solo tackle on a defenseless player. It just seemed as though one player was being singled out even though his his was no worse than the others THAT WEEK. That created confusion.

    And then James Harrison was fined for a hit on Drew Brees that did not meet the criteria above. Period. That created confusion.

    The league has created the confusion by mishandling the its corporate communication. Maybe if Goodell stuck his head in a bucket of water for a good long spell …

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