ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite concerns voiced by several players about the NFL’s newly adopted rule prohibiting any players from lowering their heads to initiate contact, commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday he expects players will be on board with the change once they understand how the change will be implemented.
“Our intent is to make sure we go to each team and we have [game] tape, we have all the analysis and work that’s been done and communicate that to [the players],” Goodell said Wednesday at a wrap-up news conference for the NFL’s annual spring meetings. “I’d give them the opportunity first to understand what it is before we make a lot of judgments about the ramifications.”
League owners unanimously approved the new rule making it a 15-yard penalty for lowering the head. Players who commit the foul are also subject to ejection. The rule applies to all players on the field at all times; previously, running backs were allowed to lower their helmets to initiate contact within the tackle box.
“There is very, very strong support for making these changes,” Goodell said. “We can take the head out of the game. We do want to make sure that certain techniques are used. They’re not in the best interest of the game.”
The NFL is also concerned by an increase in concussions on kickoffs, and Packers president Mark Murphy, a competition committee member, told reporters Wednesday that the league may one day eliminate kickoffs, although not for the 2018 season. Murphy said players are five times more likely to get concussions on kickoffs, even though kickoff returns are down because of recently enacted rules.
NFL executive vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller cited an increase in concussions the last three years caused by helmet-to-helmet hits as a major impetus for the new rules change.
“Concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits have gone up from about one in every three to nearly one out of every two,” Miller said. “We’re seeing the risky behavior of the technique . . . is putting both the player doing the hitting and the player being hit at risk.”
Last year, Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a severe neck injury while making a tackle after lowering his helmet. Shazier suffered initial paralysis, but has since resumed walking and hopes to resume playing.
“This was based on the data and research that we’ve been able to do,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chiefs medical officer. “We spoke previously this year about having an all-time high in concussions (a 16 percent increase in 2017 over 2016), and that wasn’t acceptable and we wanted to respond to that. This is part of that response.”
Owners will have more in-depth discussions at their May 21-23 meetings in Atlanta about the national anthem and whether there will be any change to the current policy. A handful of players either took a knee, raised a fist or remained in the locker room during the playing of the anthem last season to protest social injustice in the United States. Many fans and politicians, including President Donald Trump, criticized the protests, and there has been discussion among some owners about adopting a rule requiring that players stand.
Goodell said there was some discussion about the anthem, but he declined to say whether there would be a revised rule to force players to stand. Some owners, including Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Robert McNair, are in favor of requiring that players stand during the song. Others, including Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, believes it’s counterproductive to make players stand.
One player who has taken a knee during the anthem the last two seasons, 49ers free agent safety Eric Reid, hasn’t been signed, raising speculation that owners are making an example of him because of his protests. Reid’s former teammate, Colin Kaepernick, who started the recent protest movement in 2016, also remains unsigned.
“The 32 teams make individual decisions on the players who are going to best help their franchises,” Goodell said. “Those are decisions they have to make. They do that every day in the best interest of winning. Teams make those decisions. I’m not directly involved with that.”