Let’s Be Real: Helmet Hits Are Intentional
I just read Green Bay Packers’ president Mark Murphy’s comments about a new rule on helmet hits. Murphy, a true NFL establishment figure after being the chief exec of the team for 11 years, was true to form.
Murphy believes the key is “to educate our players, coaches and officials about the rule.” He says the new rule “penalizes a tactic and provides much broader protection for players.”
Where to start? Murphy got one thing right: helmet hits are tactical, which means they are purposeful, intentional acts. Education is not the cure and it won’t afford more protection to players.
The new rule prohibits lowering the head to initiate contact. But Murphy acknowledged that we already have rules against ramming, butting and spearing – though he admits they are “seldom called.”
Enforcement, then, has to be part of the cure. Since referees haven’t been enforcing the existing rules for years, why would we think they’ll enforce the new rule without additional prodding?
Here’s what’s needed to prompt enforcement: any referee in position to make such a call, but doesn’t, on later review by the league needs to be suspended for the next game and not be paid for that week.
Next, the current 15-yard penalty (and the rare ejection) hasn’t stopped such acts. For the small but significant number of players inclined to commit such violence, there needs to be ample punishment that acts as a strong deterrent.
A player charged by the ref with a helmet hit should be ejected and suspended for the following game, and should provide a week’s pay to a medical fund for victims of such tactics. Further, if the refs fail to call a helmet hit and the league later reviews the tape and determines such an infraction occurred, it should then hand out the suspension and monetary penalty.
Without meaningful behavior-altering punishment, we aren’t going to see a significant lessening of severe concussion, head, neck or spinal injuries that the league claims it wants so badly to reduce.
Does anyone doubt that the above measures would all but eliminate such intentional hits? There’s an easy and certain way to find out.
Instead of taking half measures, and enacting ineffective rules for the sake of appearances, let’s try something more dramatic, give it a year or two, and then examine the results. First, let’s prove that such behavior can in fact be all but eliminated. Once that’s established, some fine tuning can then be done if the rule is deemed to be having any significant negative effects on the game.