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Goodell backs helmet-hit change but defenders unhappy

Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins tackles James Starks of the Green Bay Packers in their game on November 20, 2016. AFP
Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins tackles James Starks of the Green Bay Packers in their game on November 20, 2016. AFP

Goodell backs helmet-hit change but defenders unhappy

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday that team owners achieved a priority item by imposing harsher punishment for helmet-inflicted hits while some defenders ripped the rule change designed to reduce concussions.

“We think this is going to help us take the helmet out of the game, and get it back to where it’s a protective device as opposed to something that can be used as a weapon,” Goodell said.

Owners approved a 15-yard penalty and possible ejection for any player who lowers his head to initiate contact with his helmet. The move was aimed at reducing the number and severity of concussions and other injuries.

“I think the coaches, unanimously, stood up and said ‘We’re with it. We understand it’s a major change and we take responsibility,’ which is what the union asked us,” said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, the NFL competition committee chairman.

“They said, ‘We understand the rule, we understand the change. We need the coaches locked in arms with us arm in arm in the teaching of this.’”

There were no concerns that coaches would fail to instruct player on safer methods of leading into hits.

“I did not hear a single coach who did not believe this is what he have to do and the right thing to do,” Goodell said. “We can do this. It’s going to take a collective effort. It’s not just on the officials to enforce it. It’s not just on the league to discipline for it. It’s on the coaches to coach it . . . everyone is enthusiastically behind this in support of this.”

Goodell downplayed questions about how the NFL will resolve player kneeling protests during pre-game playing of the US national anthem.

One idea is to play the song while teams are in the locker rooms before games. A resolution is expected at the May owners’ meetings.

Helmet safety rule ‘ridiculous’

NFL cornerbacks Richard Sherman of San Francisco and Josh Norman of Washington told USA Today they were frustrated at the new helmet-hit rule change.

“It’s ridiculous,” Sherman wrote in a text to the newspaper. “Like telling a driver: ‘If you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket.’ [It’s going to] lead to more lower-extremity injuries.”

“I don’t know how you’re going to play the game,” added Norman. “If your helmet comes in contact? How are you going to avoid that if you’re in the trenches and hit a running back, facemask to facemask and accidentally graze the helmet? It’s obviously going to happen, so I don’t know even what that definition looks like.”

The rule applies anywhere on the field, notably when blockers and defensive linemen slam into each other. That sort of encounter led to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier sustaining a spinal injury last December and being sidelined for at least the 2018 season.

“I understand trying to be safer, I get it. We saw what happened to Ryan Shazier, and I get it and understand that,” Norman said. “But at the same time, it’s football.”

The NFL reported a 13 percent increase in diagnosed concussions, 38 more in all, from 2016 to 2017.

“The more we saw of the concussion plays, and the more there was a common technique, it became more apparent that we needed to get to the technique that can protect the person doing the hitting also,” McKay said.

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