As the NFL devotes $100 million to the prevention and study of concussions, the league is lagging behind college football regarding one of the more important aspects of player safety. College football has a “targeting” rule that mandates ejection when a player engages in a know-it-when-you-see-it effort to use the helmet as a weapon against a defenseless player; the NFL doesn’t.
So why doesn’t the NFL follow suit on the “targeting” concept? It’s an issue Dan Patrick has been hammering, and it’s a topic he and I discussed on his radio/TV show earlier today.
It’s possible that a dramatic change to the rules regarding the circumstances under which a player would be ejected from a game is subject to the rules of collective bargaining. But why would the NFL Players Association have an issue with a rule change that heightens player protection and creates a clear disincentive for any players who may engage in unsafe acts?
Besides, there are plenty of things the NFL wants and the NFL talks about wanting regardless of the bargaining obligation, included (in past years) an expansion of the regular season and (more recently) an expansion of the playoffs. The league has said nothing about wanting to implement a college-style targeting rule.
At a time when the NFL prides itself on safety advances that trickle down, it’s odd to see the league resist a safety rule that should be trickling up.
Yes, the potential ejection of players creates competitive considerations. So does the potential inability of players to continue playing if they suffer a concussion, or if they are being evaluated for a concussion.
It makes plenty of sense, then, to tell players that lunging helmet first into the body or brain of another player won’t simply result in 15 yards and a fine but immediate removal from the field for the rest of the game, no questions asked. It’s the kind of deterrent the NFL needs in order to eliminate outcomes like the one everyone witnessed on Thursday night, when it seemed that the Broncos had quietly determined to tee off on Newton, over and over again, in the hopes of putting him on the sideline or rendering him less effective on the field.
Whether or not that was the plan, the plan worked. And guys like linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety Darian Stewart will gladly bid farewell to the money that will be withheld from a future game check in return for the satisfaction that comes from going 2-0 against a team that previously had won 17 of 18 games. Plenty of players on plenty of teams will gladly make the cash-for-victories swap. When the penalty changes from the removal of funds to a removal from the field, the mindset would instantly change.