New NFL rules designed to limit head injuries
NFL referees will take on more responsibility this season to
protect players from helmet-first hits to their heads and
The league has expanded its rules to prevent ”defenseless”
players from taking shots above their shoulders. Groups of
officials are meeting with teams during training camp to go over
Referee Walt Anderson, also the head of officiating for the Big
12 Conference, led a meeting with the Houston Texans on Friday. He
said commissioner Roger Goodell has been ”very involved” in
discussions with the league’s rules committee and referees to find
ways to limit the number of head injuries, while also maintaining
the game’s integrity.
”What the NFL has done is take a very proactive stance,”
Anderson said. ”Goodell is very serious about this. We’re going to
be a very proactive in doing what we can to strike an appropriate
balance. We do have a contact sport. At the same time, what can we
do to protect the players’ safety?”
The reworded rules prohibit a player from launching himself off
the ground and using his helmet to strike a player in a defenseless
posture in the head or neck. The old rule only applied to receivers
getting hit, but now it will apply to everyone.
Anderson, one of 17 officiating crew chiefs, said referees will
still closely watch receivers this season, and err toward caution
when the players are caught in vulnerable positions.
In years past, Anderson said, defensive players were allowed to
hit receivers in the head once the receiver touched both feet on
the ground. Now, officials will give a receiver an extra
split-second to ”basically get into a position where he can defend
himself,” Anderson said.
Also new this season, when a player loses his helmet, the play
is immediately whistled dead. And now, during field-goal and
extra-point attempts, the defense cannot position any player on the
line directly across from the snapper, who’s considered to be in a
The NFL has already taken measures beyond the rule book to
protect players from concussions and their effects.
The league has implemented more stringent return-to-play
guidelines for players who suffer them, and each team must consult
with an independent neurologist whenever there is a head
Anderson said medical experts laid out the effects of
concussions to referees at a rules meeting earlier this year.
”It is such a big point of emphasis, and it’s not a point of
emphasis just to make it one,” Anderson said. ”There is some
really serious concern about the damage that’s done on impact and
what happens to the brain.”
Anderson said the league will monitor the effect of the new
rules at season’s end, then evaluate if they were effective enough
in limiting injuries.
”I think it’s being appropriately addressed,” Anderson said.
”We’re always looking to get the formula just right. The game
changes over time, and we have to be prepared for the rules to
change to keep pace, not only from a competitive standpoint, but
also from a safety standpoint.”
Anderson expects more rule changes related to concussions will
come in future years. Some day, he envisions referees wearing
”The prevalence of concussions and head injuries is on the
rise,” he said. ”These types of rule changes related to trying to
avoid contact to the head area are going to be rules that are going
to be expanded, certainly not retracted.”