I have waited about five days to collect my thoughts on this and honestly let my emotions calm a bit. As some know I can be a bit outspoken and harsh at times but I wanted to refrain from letting emotion get in the way of an important message. Yes, this post will be mainly about football, but don’t view it as an attack on the sport so many of us, including me, love.
This season across all the levels of play in football there has been a larger emphasis placed on player safety, most notably contact to and with the head while playing football. It is a FACT that the helmet in football was designed and remains a protective device not a weapon or offensive piece of equipment. Using the helmet in the later fashion is and should always be a penalty for both sides of the ball. This is nothing new; since the mid 1970′s “spearing”, “face tackling” and “butt-blocking” (scroll to page 32 of that link) have been outlawed in the sport. However, routinely those events on the football field are rarely called, now in 2013 there is an emphasis on these types of infractions. Now there is a caveat of this type of action on the field called “targeting” which at the college level can have a player ejected if egregious enough. (BTW, that picture is a placard that was made in 70′s)
Before I go further, I would like to say that officiating at the high school and lower levels is a thankless job. The pay is not life changing and most do it as a hobby. Sure, I have seen some officials that the game has passed by or is too fast for them, but I have also seen men and women that do Yeoman’s work with nothing more than a handshake for a job well done. It’s not easy folks, I have done it, but done correctly and consistently it is a thing of beauty. At the college and pro levels these people do great work and often have other jobs besides being on TV and getting players, coaches and fans mad at them. I can assure you they are doing the best they can. But, I feel the game of football resides in their and coaches hands, for survival.
At the high school level in our state I know that officials have been told to watch out for targeting and the use of the helmet above the shoulders; this has helped at the cost of adjudicating the other, more established rules from the 70′s. I have seen four flags in five games for “targeting”/”spearing” above the shoulders; I have seen zero flags for “spearing” when it was below the shoulders. I didn’t write down every occurrence of these types of tackles in each of my games, however, I can vividly recollect at least 10 instances of spearing on both teams. Side note here, if I see one of our players do it they get quite the ass chewing from me on the sidelines.
People need to realize that tackling with the head-down is not a safety measure for the person getting tackled, it is a safety measure for the tackler. Placing the neck in a neutral position then applying a massive axial load (see .gif) can lead to catastrophic cervical neck injury. It also provides some safety for the one being tackled as well; case-in-point at one of our games our WR had his ribs exposed due to a catch and an opposing player lowered his head like a ram and placed the crown of the helmet in his rib cage. That should have been a spearing call, period. The defender could have had the same effect had the shoulder been in place of the crown of the helmet.
The point I am trying to make is simple, officials need to call the rules on the books (coaches need to stop coaching illegal tackling techniques). Although I believe I am astute observer I can be backed up by the National Athletic Trainers Association and their study into this matter;
On Tuesday, the NATA declared that while professional, collegiate and high school football organizations have done a “commendable job” crafting rules against dangerous head-first hits, “enforcement of these rules regrettably is uneven and infrequent.”
If the hits that paralyze an average of eight to 14 high school and college athletes per year are to be driven from the game, the athletic trainers warned, coaches are going to have to step up their efforts to discourage them and league officials are going to have to call them and penalize them more often.
“Spearing” has been a penalty in high school and National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (NCAA) football since the mid-1970s. As evidence of the dangers of the practice have mounted, the National Football League in 2010 updated and tightened its rules against head-first contact.
Does it take the initiative of “Heads Up Football” to change the way tackling is done? I don’t know, it has been harped upon since the 70′s under different guises yet we have not seen an eradication of the action as of yet. I tend to believe what the NATA is saying; proper enforcement, 15 yard penalties are huge, of the rules will help cease this action.
To the men and women in stripes, thank you for your tireless efforts, but the game may sooner rather than later be in your hands.