Yesterday, NFL team owners voted 31-1 to ban the players from ducking their heads to deliver a hit with the “crowns” of their helmets. The Cincinnati Bengals were the only team to vote against the new rule, which penalizes a team 15 yards if a player uses the top of their helmet in a tackle, block, or attempt to advance the ball outside the immediate area surrounding the line of scrimmage.
Sounds like minutia, right? It’s part of the NFL’s incremental approach to making the game “safer” and “better” to use the words of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which has moved to reduce the number of head traumas and the negative impacts they can have throughout players’ lives. Opponents of the rule consider it a slippery slope toward changing the fundamental nature of the game in order to battle the bad PR in the wake of recent events like the death of Junior Seau. But the league argues that the type of infraction they’re penalizing isn’t as common as some might think. They counted only 11 such infractions in 32 games studied during two game weeks of last season.
The question remains: in the process of protecting athletes, is the league changing how the game is played?
Sam Farmer, LA Times sports reporter covering the NFL