It seems about once every month or two I need to smack down National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell’s assault on the game of football. That’s exactly where I find myself again today after a ridiculous rule nullified a touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens last night.
To be clear, the Steelers would score two plays later but this is a rule that needs a very swift alteration because it has significant flaws.
Let’s set this up shall we? The Steelers had the ball on the Ravens’ one and a half yard line first and goal. The ball was handed to Steelers’ rookie Le’Veon Bell who was met near the half yard line by two Ravens’ players. There was a violent collision in which Bell’s helmet went flying into the end zone. He was knocked unconscious and the Ravens’ Ladarius Webb was shaken up as well.
Despite being out of it, Bell fell into the end zone with an unmistakable touchdown and it was signaled as such. Thankfully, Bell came to with the help of the trainers and walked off the field probably not knowing what city he was in. He was diagnosed with a concussion. Webb also appeared to be OK as well.
NFL rules in this age of ‘player safety’ stipulate that if a ball carrier’s helmet comes off then the play is immediately whistled dead at that spot. Makes sense right? We wouldn’t want a player being tackled without a helmet would we? The league just spent three quarters of a billion dollars on former players who raised concerns about head injuries so how it look if the helmet-less ball carrier were getting crunched?
There’s a very important flaw in this rule however. In the 21st century world of football that favors offense way more than defense; this rule actually favors the defense. That’s flaw one. Flaw two is that is prohibits the offense from advancing the ball because the player no longer has a helmet. Where’s the flaw you may ask?
Under almost any situation, who would be responsible for removing a ball carrier’s helmet? It sure as heck isn’t the popcorn vendor. Le’Veon Bell was robbed of a touchdown last night. The play should have continued until he was down or had given himself up.
Want another flaw? The play was reviewed by the on-field referee who saw that the helmet came off at the half-yard line. Why can that be judged but the fact that Bell’s helmet was sent flying by a very obvious helmet-to-helmet hit cannot be?
We see officials huddle on a weekly basis to pick up flags after they’ve been thrown for what are believed to be helmet-to-helmet hits but a penalty cannot be called when one is so blatantly obvious?
The National Football League and it’s system of rules are not perfect. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are flawed as well. Fact of the matter is that no system is perfect. That does not mean however that each of those rule systems cannot be made better.
Roger Goodell has created a monster. His efforts to make the game safer are to be applauded especially at youth levels where proper tackling techniques must be taught and then re-emphasized throughout a player’s career. In those efforts however, he has made the game a shell of what it once was and has made a farce of the rules of common sense.
Football players know there are risks on every single play. Allow them to decide what is just and unjust in terms of safety and what it means for their long-term health and for crying out loud, it’s time to establish rules that are based on common sense not swift reactions.