With the new rules enacted last year and this week (the Steeler rule), I have noticed a growing swell of displeasure amongst fans. "Why don't we just make them play flag football," is a pretty common phrase I've been hearing. Well, I'm about at my limit as well, but with the fans not the rules. As the son of a high school referee and lifelong student of the game of football, the fan uproar is making me sick. I'll explain...
Let me start with the results of these hits, not on the defenseless receivers etc., but on the defenders themselves. I'll highlight three defensive players whose lives have been shattered due to their tackling form: Dennis Byrd, Kevin Everett, and Eric LeGrand.
Here's the video links to their injuries:
I know of more neck injuries to players, but these three are good video examples of how poor fundamentals results in a tragic injury. In all the major neck injuries I can think of, there is a common theme. The players head is down, and their eyes to the field. This results to the spine being aligned in a straight plane. In this position, the spine is very susceptible to compression damage. This is something that is very dangerous, and needs to be corrected.
Where it starts
In most areas of the country kids start playing Peewee Football around the age of 7. At this age kids' bodies are still in development, and their understanding of the game of football is limited to what they see on TV or what their parents teach them. Many times their knowledge of fundamentals such as tackling comes from highlight reels. Either them, their parents, or their coach see James Harrison level somebody and use that as their guide. If the kids aren't learning proper fundamentals, it can lead to disastrous consequences either immediately or years down the road.
When I was growing up, this is what I was taught:
Proper Tackling Form:
The player's head should be back in a way that the back of the helmet can touch the top of the shoulder pads without straining their neck.
Eyes must remain open and the feet need to drive the defender through the ball carrier.
Seeing what you hit is a vital piece of advice for young football players. It's a critical skill to learn, no matter what your position or age level.
If you apply these guidelines while you watch modern NFL defenders make a tackle, you'll be shocked how few of them do this. Somewhere during these athletes' upbringing, the correct fundamentals were either lost, or never learned. They end up becoming NFL stars and grace highlight films on ESPN and the like. Meanwhile, a young kid and his dad are watching and taking mental notes. Their poor fundamentals become the standard for which that kid and father judge a tackle.
Then you get this:
Compare that video to the three I posted earlier, and it is pretty disturbing.
I see the NFL trying to correct this problem with stronger rules and enforcement. The problem goes back much further than that though. The only way to truly curb this type of poor fundamentals is to start at the Peewee level. Parents and coaches need to be more informed on proper fundamentals. The kids need to learn the major risks if they don't tackle correctly.
As a first time father to a six-month old son, I'd love nothing more than to see him play football someday. At the same time, I'm scared to death to turn him over to a volunteer Peewee coach. My plan is this: if he shows an interest in playing at the Peewee level I will either coach, or be very vested in his coaches ability. I will be enforcing proper fundamentals at home through further teaching. I will make a point to point out the poor fundamentals of players such as James Harrison, but also show him players such as Champ Bailey who do it the right way.
We as fans need to realize that you can still lay a big, highlight reel hit using the correct fundamentals. These rules aren't being stiffened to soften up the game. These rules are a priority to help rebuild the correct fundamentals from Peewee through the NFL, ensuring better player safety and a stronger game as a whole.
**disclaimer: This is my first fanpost, so any and all criticism is welcome.