Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal is known for his hard hitting ways. The kid can hit; that’s a fact. But that said, he’s been the recipient of extensive pushback over his two years as a professional football player. Put simply, his critics claim he’s a reckless player. When the NFL decided to change its helmet rule this offseason, Neal immediately came to mind. Would the rule effectively limit his effectiveness as a player? Could he adapt?
The short version of the new rule is this: a player may be penalized for unnecessary roughness when their helmet or facemask butts, spears, or rams an opponent. My fear is that it amounts to a zero tolerance rule. While the old rule required unnecessary or violent contact, the new rule does not. But wait! There’s a caveat. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio wrote an article discussing a last second tweak to the rule that may keep players like Neal from hurting their respective teams.
“The new language comes in the form of a ‘note’ that apparently was added at some point ... [h]ere’s the full text of the new note: ‘This provision does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle or block on an opponent.’”
The incidental contact would have to be result of a “conventional” tackle, so there’s a gray area here. I’m curious how the NFL will instruct its officials regarding enforcement of the rule. I can certainly foresee a scenario where
I think we can all agree, at least to some extent, that the game of football needs to be made safer. We know too much about brain trauma and its long-term effects to reject all efforts to protect the players. This simply comes down to expectations. Players should have a clear understanding of and some ability to control the prohibited conduct.