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The League Knows Best: How the Nanny State Has Invaded the NFL

In 2010, the NFL changed the rule regarding helmet-to-helmet contact. The new rule, which stemmed from a rash of concussions caused by defensive players leading with their helmets, assesses a 15-yard penalty for “A tackler using his helmet to butt, spear, or ram an opponent” or “Any player who uses the top of his helmet unnecessarily.” It's true that a helmet-to-helmet hit is potentially dangerous, but many instances are not made with malicious intent. The rule fails to take into account that a player in midair cannot alter the direction of his body.

One writer surveyed the New York Giants’ locker room for comment:

"Just tell us to stop hitting ... put a flag on us and let us play flag football," safety Deon Grant said. "If you teach how the NFL is telling us to play at Pop Warner, they'll never get drafted because they'll be soft. They'll be questioned coming out of college. They may not even get a scholarship. 'He doesn't really want to tackle.' "

On and on it went, around the locker room.

"Insane," Brandon Jacobs said, "just insane."

Journalists and commentators began to notice that the rule was applied inconsistently, particularly where protecting quarterbacks was concerned. (That’s par for the course in the NFL, where quarterbacks seems to be in a higher class all their own.) One columnist wrote:

And the refs and the league clearly aren't all on the same page for what constitutes a flagworthy hit.

The inconsistency is maddening… If the NFL wants to get serious about protecting and punishing everybody equally and fairly, they'd allow instant replay on plays like this; or consider suspensions for particularly egregious offenses.