NFL’s new rule: Players could be ejected if they initiate contact with helmet

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Trauma to the head from playing football could lead to brain damage, and unscientific denials of the possibility are unacceptable, writes the author, Adam M. Finkel. | AP Photo/Matt Ludtke

ATLANTA — The NFL has passed a new rule for this season that says any player who initiates contact with his helmets is subject to ejection after an in-game video review that will be decided in New York.

Al Riveron, the league’s head of officiating, said a foul can be called regardless of where on the body — not just the head or neck area — that one player hits another with his helmet. The rule is not position-specific, so offensive players will be subject to the same criteria as defensive players.

“This is about eliminating unnecessary use of the helmet,” Riveron said Tuesday at the NFL spring meetings.

If a player is ejected, Riveron and his staff in New York will use network camera angles to determine if the ejection is necessary. He promised that games will not become “an ejection fest” every week.

“Immediately when I learn in New York that there’s an ejection, I will ask the network to give me everything you’ve got,” Riveron said. “I will take a look at it, I will rule on it and I will say yes, he’s ejected, (or) no, leave him in the game.

“Play will stop, and we will expedite it. That’s why we won’t have the referee come over and we’re not going to get the replay official involved,” Riveron said. “The only way the replay official will be involved is he will call it and immediately tell the command center, we have an ejection on ‘No. 22 White.’”

Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay, the head of the league’s competition committee, said the league had conference calls and a webinar with every coaching staff in the league last week to tell them to begin teaching a new, safer technique.

McKay said the rule passed after the league looked at tens of thousands of examples on film to determine how to reduce concussions. Contact that’s made by leading with the helmet no longer has a place in the NFL.

“We have always learned don’t put your neck at risk and everything else,” he said. “Now we’ve taken it a step further and said that we need to teach it out of the game and put a rule in and get it out of the game.”

The rule applies to linemen, too. They can no longer lower their helmets to initiate contact.

“It’s a culture change, and it’s something that we take full responsibility” for, Riveron said. “Prior to training camp we will have position-specific videos done by head coaches such as offensive line play, defensive line play, defensive backs, linebackers, special teams, runners. Why? Because this rule is all-inclusive for all players in all parts of the field.”

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