The NFL’s Competition Committee is urging owners to expand the rule against one player launching himself into another, and Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay says it’s the evolution of the helmet that has made that rule necessary.
Specifically, McKay says, as helmets have gotten bigger, harder and better at protecting players’ heads from injuries, the unintended consequence has been that players are more confident in their helmets — and therefore more willing to launch themselves headfirst into opposing players.
“That’s a tactic we’ve seen more of — we’ve certainly seen more of it when we watch college tape than you’d like to see also,” McKay said today at the league meeting. “When a player leaves his feet either prior to or during contact to spring forward and upward and then strikes the opponent with the initial force being with his helmet.”
In the past, players viewed their helmets as a protective padding that helped them avoid injury when they got hit in the head. Now too many players view their helmets as a battering ram to help them dish out punishment.
“What we’re seeing more players do is become comfortable with the idea that their helmet can be the initial point of contact, either to tackle or block. . . . It’s a problem that is presented by the helmet and the shoulder pads, too,” McKay said. “These were protective padding by design in the 50s and 60s and I think it’s become a little more comfortable for players to be worn as almost armament, if you will — feeling very comfortable that they’re not susceptible to injury when they use their helmet, and that’s what this rule is directed at, to get that tactic out of the game.”
NFL owners are expected to vote tomorrow to strengthen the rules against launching — which should serve as a reminder that helmets are meant to make the game safer, not to make it easier for players to initiate contact at full-speed, head-first.
Failing that, perhaps the NFL should just go back to the days when players didn’t wear helmets.