As mentioned in Marc Tracy’s article (“NFL Rules Changes: When Is Football No Longer Football?”), the National Football League’s Competition Committee adopted new rules to make the game of football safer for players. The three rules he mentions are banning ball-carriers from lowering their helmets into oncoming defenders in an attempt to break free of the tackle, getting rid of kick-offs in the Pro Bowl (NFL’s All-Star game), and eliminating tackling during preseason camps.
A number of passionate football fans question the rule changes that the NFL introduces every year. They may argue that the reason why football is such a beautiful sport is because of the high intensity of the blocks, tackles, head collisions, etc. Fans love to see the grueling physical contact between opponents, as it may even be a form of expression for individuals, teams, cities, etc. Furthermore, given the fact that the NFL has been in existence for almost a full century, rule changes may take away from the authenticity of the game.
However, I am in full support of the NFL introducing rule changes as time progresses. NPR bloggers Michaeleen Doucleff and Adam Cole have illustrated that tackles by NFL players have continued to become harder and more dangerous as the game has developed. Back in the 1920s, the average lineman weighed 190 pounds and sacked quarterbacks with about 970 pounds of force. By contrast, current Baltimore Ravens lineman Haloti Ngata weighs 335 pounds and unleashes 1,700 pounds of force while sacking a quarterback.
Due to NFL players’ changes in body weight and speed, tackles have become more and more severe throughout the decades, especially during helmet-to-helmet collisions, which occur about 10 times faster than full-body tackles. As the game becomes more competitive, players have a greater desire to get better, run faster, tackle harder, etc. As long as this continues, the NFL is at risk of becoming an even more dangerous game. Therefore, the constant attention given to player safety is necessary and must never end.
Even though player safety is crucial, and I am happy that the NFL’s Competition Committee values it so much, I am still not a fan of the rule changes that are mentioned in Tracy’s article. As he states, all the rules are disadvantageous for particular types of players, and that is why I am against them. I am against the helmet-lowering rule, because we are then limiting ball-carriers from performing their main job of breaking tackles, as they plow through defenders. I am against the no kick-off rule, because we are then taking away game-changing opportunities from some of the quickest athletes in the game. I am against the elimination of tackling during preseason camps, because we are then prohibiting defensive players from practicing tackling technique (practicing proper technique may actually lead to better player safety).
That being said, I believe that the NFL should not only promote player safety, but it should also allow running-backs, kick-returners, and linebackers to continue showcasing their full potential as athletes. Thus, any changes to the game should not be related to the actions and movements of a player. An example of this would be the input of magnets inside of player helmets. Kate Wheeling, who writes for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, states that roughly 60% of concussions in football are caused by head-to-head collisions. Big hits can send the brain ricocheting off the walls of the skull, which damages brain cells. Because the brain essentially floats in a bath of cerebrospinal fluid, helmets cannot necessarily prevent concussions.
To fix this problem, we can add palm-sized magnet inserts, made from the earth element neodymium, into the front and sides of helmets. Such magnets could extend the impact zone beyond the hard shell of players’ helmets, and they could disperse some of the energy before impact occurs. As this would slow down the collision of two players before a big hit, the concept would be similar to pushing the brake pedal on a car before running into a wall.
As Justin Jelinek (tech enthusiast who writes for TechAeris) has illustrated in his article about the idea, neuroscientist Raymond Colello of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond has already begun research and experiments with the neodymium magnets. In Colello’s experiments, dropping a standard helmet from a height of 48 inches produced 120 g’s of force (force opposing acceleration). When a helmet equipped with the magnet was dropped from the same height (48 inches) onto another magnet though, the force was reduced to under 100 g’s. From such experiments and research, the scientists are confident that these magnets could reduce the likelihood of concussions by up to 80%. Furthermore, they estimate that the weight from the magnets will only add 1/3 of a pound to each helmet.
At the end of the day, the introduction of these magnets inside of helmets would improve player safety without limiting the decisions that players make as they tackle/break tackles. Finally, from a fan’s perspective, the level of excitement will continue, as we will still be able to witness feats of greatness from our favorite football players!