Whether you call it player safety or the wussification of today's NFL,the topic has generated its fair share of controversy over the last couple of years.
At their annual owners' meeting, the 32 NFL franchises sent the latest thunderbolt down, banning running backs leading with the crown of their helmet when entering contact with a defender. Predictably, this has split fans of the NFL into two camps, one which shrugs this news off and one which believes it is further watering down the game.
Running back rule passed, 31-1. Illegal to lower crown of helmets. Tuck rule also passed.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 20, 2013
Rule changes have been a part of the NFL since the beginning, when some grumbled about adding helmets and (gasp!) the forward pass to a game that was legitimately killing its player on a regular basis. The NFL is not some stone on a mountain, but a living organism, constantly evolving and changing with the times and also adding tentacles to grab even more money. With player safety becoming a huge focus for the NFL, particularly when it comes to concussions and neurological damage, this was an inevitable kind of move.
Here's the thing: There's no quibbling that this will cut down on head injuries to running backs, and likely injuries to defenders. The chief arguments against it seem to be "the running backs will get injured other ways," which is reasonable, or "this is going to lead to a lot of ticky-tack penalties, and running backs are going to have to learn a brand new style." Both of those are legitimate concerns, and I would hope the NFL wouldn't be too itchy with its trigger finger for penalties in 2013 as backs adjust.
It's also not going to be enforced at the goal-line or in short-yardage situations, when a back's first instinct is to lower his head. Ditto the tackle box in general. It's more for the open field, when that move was rarely necessary in the first place. You can still use your shoulder, stick out your arm or throw Eric Weems.
The argument that this is making the NFL "wussy" isn't one I want to spend a lot of time on. Obviously, no one wants to see the game of football as we know it evaporate, turning into flag football. But the great Jim Brown noted he never used his helmet back in his day, and those are the days the nostalgic pine for in the first place. You're not removing a slice of ancient football history here, just hopefully a step toward safer football that shouldn't damage the integrity of the game at all.
That's my opinion, anyways. What's yours?