We may actually be witnessing the beginning of the end of the sports entertainment dominance of NFL football. It’s not due to the attitudes, the salaries, or the protests of the players. It’s not directly due to ticket prices or hero worship or the criminal misconduct that seems to accompany celebrity. The greatest current threat to the NFL is one single rule.
“With each questionable flag that’s thrown, die-hard NFL fans see the one thing they actually fear the most: the loss of the integrity of the game.”
In the off-season preceding the 2018–2019 NFL season, the league decided to increase the scope and impact of the rules protecting quarterbacks from damage sustained during sacks or immediately following the release of a pass. According to the new rule, the “unsportsmanlike conduct” offense of “roughing the passer” now includes both driving the quarterback forcefully into the ground and landing on top of the quarterback with the tackler’s full body weight.
This new expansion of the rule, when combined with the existing “hands to the head” rules, facemask rules, “leading with the helmet” rules, “helmet to helmet” rules, and “low hit on a quarterback” rules, make it very difficult to determine the legal means for effectively tackling a quarterback. Many players have expressed this very real concern, but through three weeks, the league has unflinchingly stood their ground without offering much clarification.
The rules intended to protect quarterbacks from unnecessary injury have been specific, justified, and grounded in real-world examples, but also cumulative. Extensive problems with concussions like those suffered by former quarterback Troy Aikman led to the rules protecting the quarterback from blows to the head. Jim McMahon was injured after being driven into the ground with unnecessary force. Joe Theismann and Tom Brady suffered leg injuries due to low hits. Over the years, rules to protect against each of these situations have added up.