“There is no ‘make adjustment’ to the way you tackle. Even in a perfect form tackle the body is led by the head,” tweeted San Francisco 49ers cornerback and Super Bowl XLVII champion Richard Sherman last Sunday.
“The rule is idiotic And should be dismissed immediately. When you watch rugby players tackle they are still lead by their head. Will be flag football soon.”
Officially, Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 of the NFL Rule Book states that “it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent,” and that the resulting penalty will be a loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down if the fowl is committed by a defensive player. The penalized player may also be disqualified.
The rule and resulting controversy come at a time when the safety of professional football is frequently questioned. Last season’s annual injury report showed a drastic increase in diagnosed concussions throughout the NFL when compared to the 2016 season. Players suffered 243 concussions in 2016. That figure increased by 13.5 percent to a final tally of 281 diagnosed concussions in 2017. 45 of last season’s concussions were reportedly sustained during preseason.
This increase can be partially attributed to an uptick in self-reporting by players, according to the league’s report. But the NFL has also faced criticism following other severe injury incidents. Star Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a severe spinal contusion after making a head-lead tackle last December.
When it first announced the rule change, the league insisted that the new measure was instated to protect the tackling player as well as the player being tackled. But as fans, players and coaches saw and were confused by the effect of the new regulation throughout this month’s preseason games, they wondered, like Sherman, if the game itself had been damaged.
According to Yahoo Sports, 51 violations of the rule had occurred during preseason as of Tuesday, August 21. 43 of these penalties were called against defensive players.
Despite widespread backlash, NFL Vice President of Operations Troy Vincent released a statement in support of the rule with a slight clarification of its implications.
The NFL regular season begins Thursday, September 6, when reigning Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Atlanta Falcons.