Ref Walt Anderson: We have to change football, or outsiders will

Getty Images

As concerns about brain injuries mount, the game of football has two choices: Change from within, or wait until outsiders impose changes on the sport.

That’s the belief of NFL referee Walt Anderson, who also serves as the officiating coordinator for the Big 12 Conference and said at today’s conference meeting that everyone within the football world needs to get on board with the idea that helmet-to-helmet contact simply cannot be tolerated anymore.

“The game is under attack and we will either change this culture from within or it will change without, from other people,” Anderson said, via Dennis Dodd of CBS.

In college football, the change from within means ejecting players who target opponents above the shoulder. In the NFL, it means 15-yard penalties, fines and possible suspensions.

Change from “other people” could mean elected officials, including the president: In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt demanded that football change its rules to make the game safer, and in 2013 President Barack Obama said that he’s concerned about brain injuries in football.

But even if the president doesn’t plan to use the bully pulpit to demand that the game change, and even if Congress doesn’t plan to pass any laws to force the game to change, Anderson’s fear of change from other people could happen through the courts: Concussion litigation could cost the NFL a fortune, and litigation could make football too expensive for colleges, high schools and youth leagues.

So no matter how many players and fans oppose it, taking the helmet-to-helmet hit out of the game may be the right move not only for the long-term health of the players, but for the long-term health of the sport. And every time Walt Anderson throws a flag for a helmet-to-helmet hit, he believes he’s taking a small step toward keeping the sport alive.

49 responses to “Ref Walt Anderson: We have to change football, or outsiders will

  1. All for removal of helmet to helmet hits especially when your own son has suffered a concussion at 10yrs old… I also like how the NFL has selected an ambassador for all 50 states to work with Youth teams all the way up to high school….Learn proper tackling techniques and preserve quality of life after football….IJS

  2. He’s right.

    A suggestion: Get rid of face masks and the hits above the heads will stop – immediately. These guys may be ugly but they still love their teeth. And if someone still launches above the shoulders, start with a 2 game suspension without pay and double it for each subsequent illegal.

    I’m the biggest football fan west of Texas and I would be fine with removing the head shots. Which means most strong safeties in the league will have to learn how to tackle properly.

  3. The problem is determining between players leading with their heads and using their helmets as weapons and incidental contact. If you start flagging players for accidents, you are completely ruining the game and to be honest, I’d rather watch no football than watch flag football so I’d challenge the “long term health of the game” claim.

  4. Come on with this already. Electricians go to work and can be electrocuted, fireman go into burning buildings, policemen face gunfire, but they do it all for soo much less. It has been said a million times but these men are making millions of dollars to play a sport where they understand the consequences. I think all of these rule changes will be for the worse because players will fear the fines and ejections. They will want to protect their money. These type of rule changes can completely change the whole culture of the game for the worst. I mean we barely see any kick returns anymore because of fear of injury. These types of plays can be game changers. The NFL culture will be compromised.

  5. And because this is common sense it runs the risk of being ignored. Form tackling isn’t hard to learn, just means less highlight reels.

  6. There’s nothing that progressives don’t know more about than you. Walt’s right. I just dunno how much more you can take from the game and have it really represent the product we enjoy.

  7. Football has had its glory days.

    Outsiders are going to change the game no matter what. Parents will keep their kids from playing and like dominoes, one state will follow another.

    Having said that, college is expensive and scholarships will be hard fought for.

    Insurance companies will raise premium rates on institutions with football. Programs may make the decision that they can’t afford football.

    Some kids who suffer concussions may never play sports after high school anyway.

  8. While we’re at it, why don’t we just make it flag football with no contact whatsoever? And to ensure equality, let women play in the NFL…

    Liberals are ruining the game of football….

  9. Lose the helmet and you’ll then have head-to-head hits, but probably only once per player.

  10. The NFL won’t change because the President or Congress says something. They’ll only change when the bottom line hits them: money. Lawyers run the modern NFL now.

  11. I agree with Walt, and I sure as heck don’t want politicians having their say when it comes to sports.

    Leave that for the respective leagues to decide. If that means relying on Goodell to make changes and implementing HGH testing, then so be it. But please don’t let those crooks in D.C. have the final say.

  12. seriously? its football people. this is what made football popular in the 70s and 80s. players have grown soft while demanding millions more. NFL is becoming an embarrassment


    The Pro Cap was used by NFL players who dealt with the issue of frequent concussions…threatening to cut their NFL careers short.

    Steve Wallace and Marc Kelso credit the pro-cap for extending their careers…


    The NFL could fix the helmet safety issue tomorrow if they wanted…now folks need to be asking the NFL why they haven’t fixed the helmets, improving them so the game can be played without the risk of frequent concussions.

    It can be done and should be done…just got to find someone at NFL Hqrts who puts player safety first.

    BTW, Pro Cap is catching on at the Jr High and High School level…proving that the Pro Cap delivers, as advertised.

  14. steviaquinn says:

    Lawyers ruin everything……..after helmet to helmet, then it will be tackling too hard, then tackling …..

    This might come as a shock….but lawyers are typically HIRED by their clients.

    If people could fight their own battles, or be adult enough to handle their problems then the lawyers that “ruin everything” would be out of work.

  15. One of the problems is that tackling seems like it’s a lost art in the NFL. A lot of times during a game, it is just terrible. I know it will be hard to officiate a hit where the head-to-head contract was intentional or an accident and I know it will be difficult, but at least the players should tackle better. It won’t remove concussions from the game, but it should help in reducing them.

  16. So when do we hear Obama spew that that could have been him, having a concussion, when he was younger?

  17. The only way to remove helmet to helmet hits is to stop playing. You can throw all the flags you want and eject players and fine everyone, but that doesn’t remove the possibility of helmet to helmet hits!

    Regardless of whether or not the helmet to helmet hit is intentional, the fact of the matter is that they will happen as long as football is a full contact sport.

    Pretending you can enforce rules changes to mitigate that danger is foolish. I am in favor of doing whatever you can to make the players avoid the helmet to helmet hits, but they will never go away completely.

  18. Some of you are not seeing the forest for the trees. The danger to the game is at the high school level and below where it is played by minors. Boxing used to be a scholastic sport too. Walt is right. The more that is learned about post-concussive brain disease, the more likely the chance of legislation changing the game from outside.

  19. No way President Obama gets involved. He has actual priorities.
    This sounds like a job for republicans. The “party of small government and less regulation”.
    Until they decide they’re “morally” opposed to something that is.

  20. Absolutely, the government should not get involved.
    For all we know, Obama and the liberals are about ready to say it’s racist to have white toilet paper in the men’s room. No pink flowers on it. Sarcasm. Sure there are ways to help reduce concussions, but we can’t go off the deep end.

  21. Would it be possible to make football helmets magnetic so that the force is resisted when a helmet confronts another helmet? If so, I would hate to be a kneecap.

  22. marcuswelby70 says:
    Jul 23, 2013 12:07 PM
    Why would the penalties be different from college to pro. A concussion is still a cuncussion no matter what level its at.

    34 5
    Report comment
    Makes perfect sense to have stiffer penalities in college so that players will learn that it is a serious offense and they will have less playing time to be seen by scouts and to help their team.

    It is still weird that in the NFL it would only be a 15-yard penalty and a fine. I think it would be a lot easier to say players miss a quarter or a half of game if there weren’t soooo many judgement calls on these and if uneducated fans didn’t complain so much. The media doesn’t help with this either.

    I am sick of seeing Ravens and Steelers fans complaining about their players being targeted. Anyone without bias knows James Harrison deserved most of his fines especially when he said he wouldn’t change his playing style. That is just stupidity. I’m sick of hearing the speed of the game bs excuse as well, you may not be able to stop your momentum but your helmet should never be aimed at them in the first place, so that argument is worthless.

  23. marcuswelby70 says:
    Jul 23, 2013 12:07 PM
    Why would the penalties be different from college to pro. A concussion is still a cuncussion no matter what level its at.
    For starters, college players don’t get paid (well, most of them don’t anyway), hence the ejection for college and fine/suspension for the pros.

    I’ve been asking for years why more emphasis hasn’t been placed on improving the helmet. Other than those little holes in the crown, the helmet hasn’t been changed in decades. If helmet-to-helmet hits cause all these problems, then fix the helmet. We might need to come up with something effective for the neck as well.

  24. We should just make soccer our national sport. The benefit is that we can still call it “football”

    Oh wait, serious injuries still happen in soccer too. perhaps we should just get rid of sports all together as they are way too dangerous.

  25. I guess they should stop hitting in the head in boxing to. And mabye even make ufc fighters wear football helmets. Give me break. You damn well what you are getting into when you play football. If you dont like it, then dont play. Or let your kids play. I like hard violent hits. I like watching them. There are plenty of other sports to play that dont involve hitting. Stop ruining football with your whining and trying to turn it into flag football.

  26. The NFL is partnered with USA Football which runs the @headsupfootball campaign and teaching a new method of tackling. The BIG12 has signed on and hopefully other conferences will as well. This is the future and the head must be taken out of the tackle as much as possible. This tackling method is actually more effective than leading with the head.

  27. Rugby is equally violent sport to football, concusions are very very rare, nfl players can lead head first with heavy pads and rock solid helmets, rugby players only face the brutal hits of another human of equal(ish) size, we can say the game is being spoilt but remember American football started pad and helmet less, the game evolved throughout time to this point where huge pads and helmets are the norm, maybe it’s time to take a step back and think honestly, would you rather see a player without pads deliver a crushing tackle to force a fumble or a helmet to helmet collision that will eventually give someone brain damage?

  28. The consistency of the refs to call helmet to helmet is a bigger problem when they already have players they seem to flag more than others. They themselves will have to have blinders on and call each time this happens to change way game played.

  29. This all is a bunch of crap. Because it is a slippery slope they are on.

    How can you legislate violence out of a game that comes from violence?? And, the violence is part of the reason we like the game.

    They are turning football into synchronized swimming and the game will not be as appealing down the line. And when I say down the line, based on the speed they are changing the rules to wussify the game, in 8 years.

  30. Some of the comments are hard to understand. Basically if lawsuits continue to mount, no organization, club, school or park will be able to afford insurance or the risk of getting sued.

    Not only that, but some of the better athletes will be looking at baseball or other sports and then enrollment shrinks, etc.

    Fools can keep mouthing off about the sport being pansified, but when politicians, lawyers and lobby groups start discussing your sport … there is trouble ahead.

  31. If they are going to outlaw the hit to the head then they must also outlaw recievers lowering their heads before contact because that is when a lot of the illegal hits result,the tackler aims for the shoulder but the ball carrier lowers his head to shoulder level and what do you get,an illegal hit to the head.amazing.

  32. Walt Anderson is a joke.

    When I read the article, I thought he meant from gamblers on the outside.

    I am more worried about the Refs that throw the games to the Patriots with the new Helmet to Helmet late in games. We all know the kind… when Brady needs to complete a come-from-behind drive and he gets a beneficial call from the Ref that changes the outcome of the game.

    Terrell Suggs

  33. This is very insightful stuff from Walt Anderson. Nice to see somebody who is thinking about the long-term future of the game. Make him Commissioner for the time being, just so we can get rid of the immediate danger.

  34. Defensive players have lost the art of tackling. They don’t wrap up with their arms, head in front of the runner. Ever watch Jack Lambert and Ham tackle. Hard hitters, but used shoulders and arms.
    Even when defensive backs come flying in and hit with their shoulders they rarely wrap up, they just try to knock the runner off his feet.

  35. the speed of the game at the pro level makes these rules virtually impossible to enforce uniformly.. you’re dealing with split-second read & react scenarios in a game predicated upon violent contact on ever play ..they’re trying to make an inherently unsafe game safe & taking steps towards ruining it in the process

  36. @danielmarcsnyder, I believe you are over-simplifying the issue. What he meant is lawyers created this environment of litigation over everything. For example, you own a house and there is a sidewalk in front of your home. You have no rights to that property but by some strange logic you have responsibility for it. So, now, I walk past your home on that very side walk after a freeze and slip on an ice patch. Now you are held responsible (not the municipality) for that ice being there because your responsibility by some lawyer’s screwy logic extends to the street all the while you can’t do anything with that sidewalk. You can’t tear it up, alter it, you can’t even stop people from standing there. It is not yours but you are still responsible. We have lawyers to thank for that and much much more.

  37. Maybe they should focus on changing the criminal culture in football first, the number of wife beaters, drug users, murderers, rapists and other crimes within the ranks of American Football is becoming systemic and will ruin the sport faster than the concussions. Between concussions and criminals in the game, makes it hard to want to have your child sign up.

  38. Nice Walt is looking forward, too bad too many numbskulls on this board who don’t play, probably don’t by tickets, and only watch on their HD screens need to watch people injury themselves for entertainment.

  39. Clearly those who think reducing head-to-head tackling is equivalent to eliminating violence from football never played football (or at least never learned to play it the right way) or rugby. Having played both with a minimum of head shots, I can assure you there is more than enough violence and it is extremely fun to play and watch.

  40. Hit control is like gun control. Well meaning fools creating rules that don’t work.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!