Carolina Panthers: The NFL Needs a Targeting Rule

The NFL delivered a clear message regarding player safety during the Carolina Panthers game on Thursday night…

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton received multiple hits from the crown of opponents’ helmets during the season opener in Denver. Panthers fan or not, the video evidence is indisputable. A league under fire in regards to player safety has failed to deliver a message in order to protect its’ most vital asset. No, not the reigning MVP, but all players who take the field on game day.

CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had a severe blow or repeated blows to the head. Just this offseason, Jeff Miller, the league’s top official on health and safety publicly acknowledged a link between CTE and football.  The first time ever an NFL official admitted to their product being tied to the devastating disease.

Did the NFL implement a targeting rule to help eliminate the CTE causing type of hits?

No.

The NCAA debuted the ejection associated with the targeting rule in 2013. Initially it wasn’t perfect, but at least they were trying. The changes since have led to a pretty efficient implementation of the original rule. The NFL should take note:

No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul.

The 2016 NCAA football rulebook, “when in question, it is a foul.” In other words, err on the side of safety. Also note that the rule doesn’t focus on hits TO an opponents helmet, but instead focuses on how the hit is DELIVERED.

No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent (See Note 2 below) with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul (Rules 2-27-14 and 9-6). (A.R. 9-1-4-I-VI)

Note 1: “Targeting” means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball. Some indicators of targeting include but are not limited to:

  • Launch—a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area
  • A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground
  • Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area
  • Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet

The NCAA also defines a defenseless player for clarification. Also allowing video review of any targeting call on the field to ensure that the proper penalty, or lack thereof, is enforced.

Note 2: Defenseless player (Rule 2-27-14):

  • A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass.
  • A receiver attempting to catch a forward pass or in position to receive a backward pass, or one who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
  • A kicker in the act of or just after kicking a ball, or during the kick or the return.
  • A kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier.
  • A player on the ground.
  • A player obviously out of the play.
  • A player who receives a blind-side block.
  • A ball carrier already in the grasp of an opponent and whose forward progress has been stopped.
  • A quarterback any time after a change of possession.
  • A ball carrier who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first.

If flagged, the guilty party is immediately disqualified and suspended for one half of the next contest. A rule change of this variety has the potential to limit defenders leading with the crown of their helmet. However, if the officials on the field choose not to enforce a rule, even those already in place, it does nothing.

Newton wouldn’t place any blame during the post game press conference, but he didn’t need to complain. The video speaks volumes and soon everyone; coaches, fans, and players will know if the NFL is listening.

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