The Collegian
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Safe or soft: the new NFL

Perhaps you are looking at the snapshot above and wondering to yourself: "Who is this Jessie Murray girl and what could she possibly have to tell me about sports?"

I will give you some insight into who I am and then you may understand. There are two children in my family -- my younger sister and me. Growing up that meant my dad had to breed at least one of us to like football since he had no sons and did not want to go to New York Giants games by himself.

He started bringing the two of us to games when I was about 5 years old. I was always the one who wanted to stay until the bitter end, even if the team was losing by 10, while my sister would be tugging at his arm during the second quarter saying: "Can we go yet? I'm bored."

I think you could guess who has been sitting at the Meadowlands with him ever since. After the Giants, came the Knicks, the U.S. Open and then the Yankees. My father was not pleased with the latter since he is a Mets fan.

So that's the short story and now you know I am not completely ignorant. Now I will actually start my column for the week, and it should not surprise you that it is about football.

Last week, team owners from the National Football League met in California and passed a series of new safety rules.

These measures cover different areas of the game, including blind-side blocks, contact to the head, lunging on quarterbacks, kicking team formation during an onside kick and the "wedge" - a kickoff formation in which anywhere from three to five players line up and run full speed toward the kick returner.

All the rules have implications for the game and how it will be played, but I am going to focus on only two of them. These have been named the "Hines Rule" and the "Brady Rule."

Last October, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward made a blind-side block with his shoulder, leading with his head, which resulted in the broken jaw of Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers.

The Hines Rule states that the initial force of a blind-side block cannot be delivered by a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent's head or neck. An illegal block will result in a 15-yard penalty. For those of you who do not know football, that is a pretty big penalty.

I can understand protecting the head. The risks of spinal, head and vertebrae injuries could be more severe than a ligament tear or broken bone, so it makes sense to be a little more cautious in this area. The NFL has also made past provisions, like penalization for pulling on face masks, to minimize contact to players' heads.

According to some articles I have read recently, people have little concern with the idea behind this rule. The readings do, however, suggest that people have found it questionable that this rule came as a response to River's jaw injury because Hines' block appeared to be "textbook."

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Another comment page on CBSsports.com had posts that said this had been a good rule given the number of brain-damaging injuries retired players had suffered. On the flip side, people said football was a physical game. Players have made millions of dollars and signed up to play a violent game.

The other move by the team-owners worth mentioning is the Brady Rule. As with the Hines Rule, there is a direct connection between an incident with a specific player and what area of game play the rule has come to address. There is one difference. The Hines Rule was named after the person who caused an injury, while the Brady Rule was named after the player who had been injured. A slight difference, but one that may illuminate why many people's reactions to these rules have included statements that football is becoming "soft" and that the league is trying to regulate how the game is played too much.

The new Brady Rule states that defenders who are knocked to the ground may no longer lunge into quarterbacks if the play is ongoing. Essentially, players cannot do what Kansas City Chiefs' safety Bernard Pollard did to bring Brady down.

I have repeatedly watched the YouTube video clip showing when Brady went down last September. Pollard was on the ground and then scrambled to get himself up and lunged at Brady as the ball was leaving the quarterback's hands.

Some have called this hit dirty but I saw it as Pollard doing his job. He saw the ball and he tried to take Brady down. Isn't that what you are supposed to do in football? I think it is called trying to sack the quarterback.

Tom Brady got hurt and missed the season. This happens to players all the time. It is the nature of the sport. Should rules be made, like the two aforementioned, every time a player suffers from a serious injury?

Before the injury, Brady was on a 128-game starting streak, the third-longest for a quarterback in the league's history. He had accumulated three Super Bowl rings. This is impressive, but after being healthy for so long he was bound to get injured at some point. As some of the respondents to the Hines Rule said above, these players get paid to play a violent game and should be prepared for the injuries that come with the package. They have played too long to not know what they have gotten themselves into.

Some of the recent headlines about the new safety rules say it all. "Brady rule? Owners pass four safety rules" or "NFL outlaws hit that injured Tom Brady."

The following was the first paragraph of a story published by the Associated Press: "NFL team owners passed four player safety rules for next season on Tuesday and adjusted the calls on the kind of tackle that injured New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the 2008 opener."

This was the clincher for me. Rodney Harrison, a free agent safety who had played for the Patriots, was quoted saying a variety of things about these rules, which included likening football to "pattycake."

"It's crazy," he said. "You've been taught since you were six or seven years old to finish the play."

Harrison also went on to say that he did not think Brady considered Pollard's hit dirty.

I am not just a typical New Yorker bashing New England. Even players who have played with Brady chide the NFL for passing such provisions.

Football is supposed to be aggressive and people naturally get hurt. I understand the need for safety, but when the game has been played a certain way for so long, some of these rules just seem flat-out silly.

"We don't in any way as a committee try to pass rules for player safety that affect the game negatively," said Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee.

Football fans will just have to watch during the 2009-10 season to see whether McKay's statement holds.

Contact assistant sports editor Jessie Murray at jessie.murray@richmond.edu

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