The NFL’s Incompetence Regarding Player Safety and Rule Enforcement
The NFL is in a state of chaos. Players are increasingly larger, stronger, and faster while recent research asserts that concussions could be psychologically devastating. As a result, player safety has jumped to the forefront in football discussion, which has provoked the tyrannical robot, Roger Goodell, to take initiative. In recent years, he has implemented new rules aimed at protecting defenseless players (e.g. quarterbacks and receivers) and decreasing helmet-to-helmet contact.
However, enforcement of these rule changes has been spotty and inconsistent due to unclear phrasing in the legislation and insufficient replay system rules. For example, helmet-to-helmet contact is only illegal when a receiver is catching a pass or when a quarterback attempts to throw. Meanwhile, linebackers have free reign to deck running backs at full speed directly in the helmet. Nothing is being done about those hits. Furthermore, personal foul penalties are non-reviewable via coach’s challenges, even if blatant offenses are missed due to referee incompetence.
In the NFL's season opener, a Super Bowl rematch between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, the health of All-Pro quarterback Cam Newton and the outcome of the game proved detrimental. On three separate occasions, Newton was violently hit in the head by Broncos defenders, which should have necessitated at least multiple personal foul calls, and perhaps even an ejection. Moreover, proper enforcement of these calls would have severely altered the course of the game, which the Panthers lost 21-20. And yet, only one personal foul was called on Denver, which even led Cam Newton's father to make these statements: “I’m not going to say it’s about race… but it causes me to wonder… would this have happened to some of his other fellow colleagues?” Overall, this lack of punishment is completely negligent and irresponsible on the behalf of the NFL.
In addition, nothing has been done with regard to heightening the power of in-game officials. The fact of the matter is that the responsibility needs to fall on the referees to uphold the rules and keep the game safe, yet they currently do not have the power to correct missed personal foul calls. This clearly was an issue in the season opener because neither the officials nor the Panthers' coaching staff had the power to challenge those missed penalties.
The only way to reduce these fouls is to punish offenses as they happen. On this issue, former NFL offensive linemen and current ESPN football analyst Mark Schlereth reported on First Take: "Essentially as a player, you try to push the envelope. You get as close to the edge as you possibly can and if they're not calling it, then you continue to push the envelope until they start calling it... if they're not calling it, and they're allowing you to hit the quarterback in the head, that's on them. And I'm going to keep hitting him cause that's how I'm going to win a football game.” Clearly, the officials' inability to correct missed offenses led to a more dangerous environment on the field.
It is worth noting that the NFL and NFL Players Association are conducting an investigation regarding Carolina's medical team’s response to Newton’s head trauma since he did not receive any medical attention until after the game. However, Roger Goodell should be less concerned with finding who to blame when incidents like this happen. Instead, the NFL must do a better job at enforcing player safety by distributing proper punishment for these dangerous and illegal plays as they happen. For instance, they could easily add another referee that works off the field and watches the tape live in order to notify on-field officials about calls they may have missed. Easy fix.
Yet whatever the solution may be, there is no excuse for these sorts of rules to not be enforced properly with all of the video technology and medical assistants available. Goodell simply needs to do a better job because the NFL is failing to protect its players.
Oh, and free Tom Brady.