NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league’s new rule against players lowering their helmets into opponents doesn’t make the sport soft.
Asked on NFL Network what he would say to people who think he’s making the game less physical, Goodell said he’d say those people are wrong.
“Not true,” Goodell said. “That’s one of the things that our Competition Committee, in working with all of our coaches and all of our football people throughout the league, focus on — those dangerous techniques that don’t belong in the game. The reality is this happens very infrequently, which is good. But what the coaches all agreed to do in March was coach it out of the game. Nobody ever coaches to use the top of the helmet. It’s not only a head injury but it also could be a potential spinal cord injury. What we need to get back to is using the shoulder and that’s what the coaches all talked [about]. The fundamentals are to teach using the shoulder and that’s what the coaches want to do. They want to get back to the fundamentals.”
Many players, however, are opposed to the rule. And even many players who say the rule’s intent is good have questioned whether the officials will be able to enforce it properly, considering the way these hits can happen in the blink of an eye. But Goodell says that the league wouldn’t have passed the rule if it couldn’t be officiated, and the officials know the three elements that will have to be involved if a hit is going to be penalized under the new rule.
“That was obviously a major focus for our coaches, as rightfully so,” Goodell said. “Dean Blandino, who is our new supervisor of officials, he’s really focused on three elements. One [is] squaring up. The second is getting your head down and using the crown of your helmet. And the third is delivering that blow. That’s whether it’s an offensive or defensive player. He is confident in talking with our officials that we can officiate that and we can do it properly. I’m confident they’ll be able to do that.”
At the moment, this rule appears to be unpopular with most players and most fans. The officials enforcing the rule consistently is the best hope Goodell has of getting the players and the fans on his side, accepting that the rule makes the game safer without making it less physical.