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Post Column: Helmet-to-helmet rule needs consistent fine

The 2013 NFL football season came to a close earlier this week with coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens getting the win in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, La., beating little brother Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers and giving the Ravens their second Super Bowl in team history, the last of which came in 2000.

Now, there is a seven-month offseason until August, when the regular season will begin once again. One aspect of the game sure to find its way into the headlines is the helmet-to-helmet rule that has made its presence felt throughout the NFL in recent years.

The NFL ultimately has three goals it tries to achieve. First and foremost, it wants to be profitable. Second, it wants to produce good entertainment for its fans, who make professional sports into the success stories they are today. Third, the NFL tries to ensure the health and safety of its players. 

These are all sensible goals to have. In recent years, however, the NFL has focused so heavily on protecting the players that it has changed the way the game is played and taught, especially because of the infraction for helmet-to-helmet contact, which, when called, results in a 15-yard penalty and a possible fine from the NFL. It is also not uncommon for the league to suspend the player who delivered the hit or eject him from the game.

The NFL introduced the helmet-to-helmet penalty in 2010, and since then the game has not been the same — and not in a good way.

Though the rules regarding unnecessary roughness are numerous and extensive, the rule pertaining to helmet-to-helmet contact is as simple as it sounds. Essentially, any contact to the head during an attempted tackle results in a penalty.

The helmet-to-helmet rule has been under heavy scrutiny since its inception. I share the sentiments of Nick Dewitt, who wrote in an article on bleacherreport.com, “There’s a big problem here. Roger Goodell plays a role in the decision on how these are handled and he doesn’t seem to have any memory for how he does it player to player. He picks and chooses his fines and discipline at random. If you want to emphasize this, make it something that consistently makes a difference.”

Fines vary based on the severity of the hit. Most fines are $25,000. That is not always the case — just ask Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was fined three times in 2010 for a total of $125,000. In 2011, Harrison put a hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, was flagged for helmet-to-helment contact, and was later suspended. In terms of salary, that hit cost Harrison roughly $215,000.

That lack of consistency in penalization means some players can lose much more than others for the same hit. I think the NFL should instate a flat, consistent fine for all helmet-to-helmet hits.

Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard recently made a bold statement saying the NFL won’t be around in 30 years because of all of the rule-makers lightening things up and constantly throwing flags.

I can’t say whether Pollard’s prediction will be right, but I can say that I support his assertions that the NFL is trying so hard to protect player safety that it is changing the way that football is played. Football is not the same game that it once was. The stricter rules are turning fans away from the game. That will continue unless changes are made, which is why I suggest the NFL address these growing problems before it is too late.

Christopher Miller is a freshman studying sport management and broadcast journalism and a columnist for The Post. What should the NFL do to balance player safety and entertainment? Email Christopher at cm001111@ohiou.edu.

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