Safety Not Free: Abolish the Body Weight Rule

October 10, 2018

This year’s football season has been full of questions, such as: What’s wrong with the Steelers? How do the Browns have a better record than the Patriots? Why didn’t Patrick Mahomes start last year? But most pressingly, when did the NFL become so soft?

This is the first year of the NFL’s new “body weight rule.” It prevents defensive players from putting the full weight of their body on a quarterback when tackling him after a pass. The rule was created as a direct response to Aaron Rodgers’ injury last season. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr tackled Rodgers after a pass, but in the process landed on top of Rodgers, snapping his collarbone, prompting the NFL to take another look at its roughing the passer rules.

The “body weight rule” is the NFL’s latest attempt to increase player safety. The movement began with the tragic suicide of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau in 2012. His death brought the safety concerns of players to the forefront of the sport. NIH studies discovered that Seau suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a disease that has been linked to the deaths of many former football players. The players, and the public, believed the NFL was to blame for these tragedies, prompting the NFL to revise its tackling rules.

In 2013, the League instituted a rule limiting the use of an active player’s head when initiating contact. The rule prevents a runner or a tackler from “initiating contact with the crown of his helmet”. That same season, the NFL also started its concussion protocol, which provided team doctors and an independent neurological consultant with tests that a player must pass in order to reenter the game, or even practice, if it is believed that he has a concussion. These rules aimed to reduce the number of concussions that players suffered. And, while it did significantly reduce concussions throughout the league, it has led some fans to criticize the NFL for being “soft”.

The NFL is soft now, but not because of its concussion safety rules. These rules are a positive step towards player safety; however, its new body weight rule is absurd. The rule states the defender is responsible for avoiding landing on the quarterback when taking him to the ground.” How else are you supposed to tackle someone? The entire sport of football is being tackled and taken to the ground, often times with a large man on top of you.

Aside from the rule’s lack of logical practicality, it has also greatly hindered the flow of the game. There have been 48 roughing the passer penalties throughout the first five weeks of play, compared to 29 through five weeks last year. Seemingly every week there is an outrageous roughing the passer penalty. Just this past Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman TJ Watt received a roughing the passer penalty on a play in which he barely touched Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin voiced his frustrations in his post-game interview, stating Man, these penalties are costing people games and jobs. We gotta get ‘em correct. So I’m pissed about it, to be quite honest with you.”

Additionally, the rule is actually putting players at further risk of injury. Miami Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes tore his ACL while attempting to legally tackle Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr according to the new rule. The NFL is not concerned about the safety of its players, they are concerned about the safety of its quarterbacks. A normal clean tackle that would have likely left Carr without injury, instead resulted in Hayes tearing his ACL, ending his season. Richard Sherman took to Twitter to criticize the NFL, blatantly claiming that “they don’t care about the rest of us getting hurt. Long as the QB is safe.”

It is time for the NFL to revise or even abolish its body weight rule. It has essentially made it impossible to tackle, hit, or seemingly breathe on quarterbacks without receiving a roughing the passer penalty. It has drastically increased the number of penalties per game, making games less fun to watch. No one watches football to see the referees penalize players for playing football. Additionally, the rule is clearly not about player safety; it is about the safety of the quarterback, at the expense of the other 21 players on the field.


Image Credit: flickr user keithallison


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