While most NFL pundits agree that player safety issues must be addressed, not everyone agrees on the league’s tactics.
Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forte has placed himself at the forefront of this debate, referring to a new NFL rule designed to prevent helmet-to-helmet collisions as “absurd.” According to the rule, any runner that uses the crown of their helmet to initiate contact outside of the tackle box will be assessed a 15-yard penalty.
For Forte, a running back known for his punishing style of play, such a rule would be especially damaging. The former Tulane standout had some harsh things to say about the new rule on Monday:
"The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I've ever heard of," the Bears star wrote. "In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles."
"U can't change the instinctive nature of running the football," he added.
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Given the extensive backlash stemming from the death of Junior Seau and the myriad health issues faced by other NFL veterans, the league feels as though it has to do something to preserve the long-term health of its players. To that end, NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay cited the new helmet rule as “a pure and simple a player safety rule.”
"The time has come we need to address the situation,” McKay told the Associated Press. “You can't duck your head and deliver a forcible blow with your helmet."
"We're looking for the obvious fouls on this one. We realize this is a major change for players and coaches,” he went on to say.
Forte is hardly alone in his criticism of the rule change. In an interview with Dallas radio’s 105.3 the Fan, former Cowboys star and all-time NFL leading rusher Emmitt Smith said, "If I'm a running back and I'm running into a linebacker, you're telling me I have to keep my head up so he can take my chin off?”
At the same time, the NFL has to do something to curtail the beating that its players receive over the course of their careers. On Saturday, former all-pro running back Brian Westbrook became the latest player to admit that he’s experienced memory loss due to his time on the gridiron. Just 33 years old, Westbrook told ProFootball Talk that he struggles to remember names, facts and new information.
As long as cases such as Seau’s and Westbrook’s continue to pop up, the NFL will have to take measures to address them.