When the NFL first adopted the rule regarding the lowering of the helmet in 2018, no one knew it was coming. This year, the NFL has made a tweak to the controversial rule that no one knew had happened.
The change appears in the official 2022 rulebook, which the NFL has posted online. The rule now reads as follows: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head and makes forcible contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
The rule has changed in two ways. First, the NFL has removed the requirement that the player initiate contact. Second, the word “forcible” has been added to the rule.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the word “initiate” was erased from the rule because it became a sticking point in connection with fines imposed on players for violating the rule. It was commonplace for players to argue that they did not “initiate” the contact, and it was making it harder for the fines to stick via the internal appeals process.
Of course, the addition of the word “forcible” will give players a different defense. The league apparently thinks it will be easier to show that a player made a forcible blow with the helmet than it was to prove that the player had initiated the contact.
It’s possible that many players have been fined for violating this rule since its inception four years ago. The NFL does not announce the weekly fines imposed on players. Instead, the league will respond to specific questions about specific fines that were or weren’t imposed on specific players. If no flag is thrown for lowering the helmet, it requires reporters to watch every snap of every game and search for instances of a player potentially violating the rule.
The league no longer has to do that. It uses an artificial intelligence program developed with Amazon to identify all instances of player helmets making contact with anything. Starting this year, the league no longer has the added burden of showing that such contact was initiated by the player who is fined.
The rule originally was developed as another safety measure. The full story as to how it happened is one of more than 100 essays contained in Playmakers. I could re-tell the story here, but I’m still trying to move a little merchandise.