NFL Rulebook: Safer or Softer

The latest player-safety rule changes have drawn ire from players, fans

The ever-expanding rulebook of the NFL got a little bit bigger this week, when 11 new rules were announced to heavy and relentless criticism from fans, writers and even players. Rodney Harrison said that they were making the game 'soft.' Troy Polamalu has said the sport is becoming a pansy game.

And while it's undeniable that the new safety rules will probably achieve their end (see: safety), one must ask themselves at what price is this coming; changing rules, clarifying rules is all well and good, but it must be done with a careful hand. Revision is a slippery slope in professional sports. (see: NBA)

The rules concerning blindsides and defenseless receivers, for example, are tenable, maybe even good. No need to hit the head or neck when you have the whole body to target, right? The only trouble is this: football is about emotion, and mentality. Part of your job, as a football player, is to avoid situations wherein you might be turned into hamburger. Legislating fear out of the game will alter its nature irreparably.

But, again, at least these rules leave some wiggle room.

Not so with the removal of the wedge, time-tested staple of special teams. It is now illegal to form a wedge of more than two players on kicks; and somewhere, Bronko Nagurski must be spinning in his grave.

But the worst to come from the NFL-owners' meetings this week was the rule concerning downed defenders not being allowed to pursue the quarterback. Yes, yes, we all saw Carson Palmer go down at the hands of Kimo Von Oelhoffen on a play like this (this actually led to the Kimo Rule); we also saw golden-boy, and jersey-sales-gold-mine Tom Brady go down on a similar hit last season.

Unfortunate scenarios, both, especially if you are a wealthy owner with tickets and throw blankets and jerseys and $9.00 beers to sell. But obliging defenders to give up on the play goes against every football cliche, real or made up, ever. I can still hear my high school coach screaming vulgarities through my face-mask because I didn't go until the whistle. Now, at least, I'd have an excuse.

So will the NFL be safer in 2009? Absolutely.

Are Polomalu and Harrison right in their assertions that the game is slowly being legislated into softness?

You bet.

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