NFL Protection Rules Not Necessarily Protecting Players

Football is inherently violent. Back in the 1900s there was even backlash about the risks involved as the sport grew in popularity. No matter how much the NFL tries to prevent it, and no matter the massive amounts of padding, football is and will always be a violent sport.

That hasn’t stopped them from trying. There have been many rule changes over the last several years to help protect the players. The 2000s have been riddled with various “improvements” on the rules in order to make football seem safe. Words like “defenseless” and “helmet-to-helmet” are thrown around regularly on broadcast, but they weren’t staples of the game until the last 20 years. The first helmet-to-helmet rule wasn’t implemented until 2002 and defenseless players weren’t protected until 2010. These rules were necessary to help sustain football careers, and it shows. Nobody in their right mind should be able to endorse extreme contact between players. Oakland Raider linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the rest of the season in October for a harsh helmet-to-helmet collision on Jack Doyle. This hit was capped off a career tendency to place dangerous hits on people, making it an easy decision by the league.

That being said, the rule evolution here has stretched to a point where fans and players alike are rising against them. Any given contact between a receiver and defender can be flagged for interference. Landing with any semblance of weight on a quarterback after a sack can be called roughing the passer. Laying a finger on a kicker in any way for any reason is roughing the kicker. These flags have caused a lot of controversy about how people are even supposed to play the game. More importantly, players have been fined for criticizing the officiating.

This seems to indicate that what the NFL has is a referee problem as opposed to a safety problem. In the NFC Championship game last year, when Los Angeles Ram Nickell Robey-Coleman put a brutal hit on Tommylee Lewis while a pass was incoming. It was textbook pass interference, and maybe more, but no call was made. This alone prompted a rule change for 2019 that pass interference calls could be challenged. To this date, referees have made it very clear that they do not intend on reversing any calls on the matter, which as only caused further aggravation from everybody involved. Between the overly sensitive calls when it comes to protecting passers and the lack of calls regarding receivers and defenders, it’s clear that the issue is not with the rules.

The Cleveland Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 14. You might not know that because by the end of the game, nobody cared. The talk of the evening was on the brawl that happened at the end of the game. After Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph went down on a late hit by Myles Garrett, he was irritated. Rudolph tried to take off Garrett’s helmet out of frustration, to no avail. In retaliation, Garrett took Rudolph’s helmet off and beat him over the head with it.

There’s no argument that Garrett was in the right. The point is that there is no rule that would have prevented Garrett from doing what he did that night. He is facing a suspension for the rest of the season because of it. Somewhat ironically, despite the numerous suspensions handed out, the quarterback is the one that got away with it. Still, the fact is that no amount of padding or rules is going to make football harmless to the players. For the first time in the 100 plus years of the NFL, someone will likely die on a football field. It won’t be because of a lack of safety, but rather a freak accident that the NFL should not assume they can prevent.