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The game of football is in imminent danger. Recently, 49ers cornerback, Richard Sherman, made controversial comments regarding the NFL’s new helmet rule.

“There is no ‘make adjustment’ to the way you tackle,” Sherman posted on his Twitter account. “Even in a perfect form tackle, the body is led by the head. 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.”

While these comments may be frowned upon by the NFL league offices, there is a lot of truth in what he said.

Due to recent studies and findings regarding the effects of concussions, new rules are constantly implemented every year to ensure the safety of players. As a result, this alters some of the physicality and technique of the game.

With more information available about the risk of injury while playing football, more and more parents are becoming concerned about the safety of the game. It has led to a decreased participation at the youth level.

Youth:

The greatest threat to youth league football is the consistent decline in participation. Parents are increasingly concerned about the effects of potential head injuries by playing the sport. This has led to an initiative by USA Football to implement a wave of rule changes beginning in 2017.

These rules include no special teams, no three-point stances, players must rotate positions rather than just one and players of equal size must play against one another. While the intentions to prevent injuries is admirable, it is striking to see some of the basic fundamentals of the game being reduced at the youth level.

High School:

Two-a-day practices in the summer have been common in high school football for decades. In the last few years, a number of rule changes have limited the number of double-day practices a high school team can utilize.

As an example, Northern California’s Central Coast Section (CCS) has tinkered with the rules of two-a-days for years. In 2008, teams were only allowed two of those but by 2017 teams were allowed a total of five. In addition, the junior varsity level is no longer able to schedule two-a-day practices.

During the season, teams are allowed only two full contact practices per week for no more than 90 minutes. While it is commendable that schools are looking out for their athlete’s scholastic and future health, this could bring about some other concerns. Due to fewer contact practices, they may be more susceptible to injury because they are not as used to absorbing contact and avoiding precarious situations.

Practice helps players teach their bodies how to perform tasks such as blocking and tackling. These tasks are not natural but are some of the most fundamental aspects of the game of football. They are also some of the most dangerous aspects of the game and must be practiced throughout the week.

Ivy League:

As players mature into their adult bodies at the college level, the speed and power by which the game is played can lead to even bigger hits and more severe injuries. To combat the growing concern surrounded around brain trauma, in 2016 the Ivy League decided to eliminate tackling in practices during the regular season.

This is an interesting development as the Ivy League does not offer athletic scholarships and is looking after the welfare of its student-athletes from a more academic point of view. Very few players in the Ivy League are talented enough to go on to play at the NFL-level so the emphasis is more on the player’s success outside of athletics.

NFL:

The NFL approved a new rule this offseason stating “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” After some backlash this preseason, including the aforementioned comment made by Sherman, the NFL has amended its stance on the rule slightly. The rules committee upheld the enforcement of this new rule, but did make an important distinction “that inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or face mask is not a foul.”

The problem with this rule, still is that it can lead to a poor tackling technique. Players must think before tackling rather than letting their instincts take control.

While football is broken down and analyzed in every aspect in preparation, it becomes difficult to make split-second decisions about the proper way to tackle at game speed. By taking away the defender’s natural instinct to tackle the opponent, it takes away some of the physicality of the game which is so well embedded in the culture of the NFL.

Final Thoughts:

The battle for the soul and sanctity of the game of football and player safety seem to be consistently at odds. How many practices are too many? What is the best way to tackle and block in order to protect players from injuries?

These questions have been bewildering the sport for years because they have yet to be answered. Administrators, doctors, coaches, players, and parents are constantly tweaking the rule book in an effort to solve this great dilemma. If this problem persists then Sherman point will be proven right and the soul of the game is at stake.

David Hegler

Author David Hegler

BS in Business Management from Azusa Pacific University. Fanatical 49er fan. Avid fan of all Bay Area sports teams.

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