Sun. May 26th, 2024

Image: “2009 NFL Black Logo” by RMTip21 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0..jpeg

There is no possible way to eliminate the violent nature of football. There are too many grown men running at each other full speed every play with the intent of inflicting damage that there will always be risk involved. This is true in the youth leagues when the players finally graduate from flag football, to wearing pads and helmets, all the way up to the NFL. But, with further and further research being devoted to the prevalence and lasting impact of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), there can at least be changes made to try and make the sport a little bit safer.  

Since 2002, the NFL has put in place over 50 rules to try and improve the safety of their players. The most recent of these rules was implemented in March 2024 and it changed the entire complexion of the kickoff. The kicking team’s players will now line up on the opposing teams 40-yard line and nobody is allowed to move except the kicker or kick returner until the ball hits the ground or is caught. This dramatically decreases the chance of injury as everybody is now closer together and can’t build up high speeds.  

A prior rule in 2023 moved the ball on a fair catch from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line. This rule has been in effect in college football since 2018. A fair catch is defined by NFL Football Operations as “an unhindered catch of an airborne scrimmage kick that has crossed the line of scrimmage, or of an airborne free kick, by a player of the receiving team who has given a valid fair catch signal”. This incentivizes teams to not run the ball back on a kickoff attempt, as this is the most violent part of any football game and where the majority of concussions and other injuries stem from. As Jeff Miller, the NFL Executive Vice President who oversees Player Health and Safety, puts it in an article for NBC Sports, “between the punt and the kickoff, there’s a disproportionate number of concussions occurring on only a couple plays.” This new rule was a relative success as the number of concussions sustained on these plays dropped by 60% according to findings from the NFL.  

Also implemented in 2023 by the NFL was the Expands Impermissible Use of the Helmet Rule, which goes more in depth on the previous Impermissible Use of the Helmet Rule. This ensures that a foul occurs when a player uses their helmet to “butt, ram, spear” or make forcible contact to an opponents’ head or neck area. These are among the most violent acts that can be seen on a football field. There have been countless plays where an opponent connects with the head or neck area with their helmet and leaves the opposing player lying on the turf unconscious as a result. As such, the flag thrown on the field for this results in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the offense if it is committed by a defensive player. This can change the entire outcome of games. The offending player also faces the possibility of getting ejected from the game and subsequently fined. The goal here is that these harsh repercussions incentivize the players to go away from using their helmets in this harmful manner. But in reality, this doesn’t really play out on the field. In an article by NBC Sports, it was found that in 2022 there were 229 fines given for the lowering of the helmet to make a tackle. But there were actually only four flags thrown in response during the game. So, if the players are only getting fined and not actually getting punished on the field, what exactly is the point, considering the majority of players are rich with an average salary worth millions? More drastic measures have to be taken and the rules already in place have to actually be enforced if they are serious about cutting down on head injuries. 

Colin Bradley is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism.

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