NFL

Is NFL's Helmet to Helmet Hit Policy Hurting the Game?

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The few years I played tackle football it was always a badge of honor to have scuff marks all over your helmet. The more different colors, the better. It meant you took some hard hits and gave some, too.

If anyone told me back then that helmet to helmet hits would someday be outlawed at the pro level, I would have said they were nuts. Yet today in the NFL the helmet to helmet hit has gone the way of the horse collar tackle. It's illegal, outlawed, and all but eradicated from the field of play thanks to overrated safety concerns and a few knockout blows. 

Yet isn't it the hard hits and the highlight reel tackles that make pro football so fun to watch sometimes? Nobody wants to see someone get hurt badly, but concussions aren't going to go away just because you fine players for making helmet to helmet contact. Making it a penalty on top of that, without the act of launching, is unfortunate to say the least. There's no gray area sometimes with these plays that result in these huge penalties. It's a system that's starting to show some major flaws. 

Football all too often involves two guys running at each other full speed. One wants to find a crease and get to the end zone while another wants to stop his opponent as soon as possible, hopefully for a loss of yardage. Everyone on the field knows they are playing a game that's full of risks by nature. Defensive players don't always get the big time contract dollars that the offensive crew can earn, so subjecting this one class of player to excessive fines is discrimination. These guys shouldn't have to worry about paying a huge financial penalty and punishing their whole team because they clash heads with a running back, receiver or quarterback.

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Launching head first was already deemed an illegal type of hit before this new stance on imposing fines and penalties for virtually all helmet clashes took effect. There was no need to go as far as the league did, and it seems like the game is paying the price along with the fined players. Sometimes these types of penalties can ruin a team's momentum.

It's third down and 8, the running back is rolling out, and the linebacker is bearing down hard. The pass goes out and the running back gets clobbered reaching out for the catch. It's punt time...but WAIT! There's a flag. Both guys are fine and get right back up, but it turns out they bumped heads. The whole defense is punished and the other team gets a first down and goes on to score a game winning touchdown when just a year ago the same play would have been talked about by the announcers as a great defensive stand. The offense has the advantage every time in that scenario. 

It's always a good idea to try to increase safety and prevent injuries, but the problem with outlawing helmet to helmet hits is it's not always avoidable, hardly ever malicious as far as the defender's intent, and it changes the game as we once knew it. Not to mention it's not by far the only way a player can end up with a concussion or get knocked out.

Take Brett Favre, for example. Last Monday night he got pasted by Corey Wooten of the Chicago Bears. It was a perfectly legal hit, but it knocked Favre out because his helmet hit the ground. Favre's been smacked all over the field so many times this year, and he's been injured time and again due to legal hits. Just because a hit injures a player doesn't mean fines and penalties should be assessed. It happens. It's football. 

It's perfectly acceptable to keep an eye out for malicious launches that have the intent to hurt written all over them, but in real time with two guys running at each other it's hardly ever easy to make the determination of what's legal or illegal these days when it comes to helmet contact. Since it's never a situation where replay challenges can right a wrong, it's punishing a guy for doing his job with no valid way to appeal a bad call.

The policy should be looked at in depth and only severe situations should result in penalties. Fines should be reserved for seriously egregious scenarios, and the deciding factor should not be whether a guy gets injured or not from a particularly hard hit. 

The major problem with the new helmet to helmet hit rules is the slippery slope that could ultimately result from these changes. Instead of focusing on safety by outlawing these kinds of hits across the board, how about developing better helmet technology? There's got to be a better way than fining and penalizing guys for playing aggressively and doing what they're trained to do from high school through college only to be told at the pro level that's no longer acceptable. 

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