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

necks.

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

the changes.

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

defenseless position.

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

injury.

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

protective helmets.

”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.”