With another brutal hit during January 14th’s NFL playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints, there was a helmet-to-helmet hit between 49ers safety Donte Whitner and Saints Running Back Pierre Thomas, leaving Thomas out of the game with a concussion, and the public scratching their heads about the legality of this concussive blow. No flag. No penalty. No fine.
With the League’s escalating emphasis on player safety and the documented troubles many NFL retirees have had with head injuries, surely this type of intentional, vicious hit is not condoned by the NFL – or is it? According to the current NFL League rules, this hit was in fact, a “legal” helmet-to-helmet hit.
The current League rules on helmet-to-helmet hits which took effect last March include bans against helmet-to-helmet hits against “defenseless” players in eight (8) categories. A runner who has completed a catch and has had time to protect himself is not one of those categories. Thomas, officials said, had become a runner, despite suffering the concussive blow.
The eight (8) defenseless player categories for illegal helmet-to-helmet hits are as follows:
1. A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass;
2. A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player;
3. A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progression has been stopped;
4. A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air;
5. A player on the ground at the end of a play;
6. A kicker/punter during the kick or during the return;
7. A quarterback at any time after a change of possession; and
8. A player who receives a “blindside” block when the blocker is moving toward his own end zone and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.
With all that is known to the NFL, it seems reasonable that the League should start establishing rules, protocols, and player fine that offer more protection to the players from hits like this one. In a statement by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Sunday: “I always anticipate that we will do whatever it takes to make the game safer, to change the rules, improve the equipment and make sure we reduce the use of the head in the game…It has been successful. We’re seeing a reduction in injuries.”
Sunday’s hit – Legal? According to the NFL. Safe? You make the call.
Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, P.C. is currently investigating concussion injury cases on behalf of former professional football players and athletes, as well as those who may have suffered from a concussion caused by other forms of trauma such as an automobile accident, trucking accident or a slip and fall. If you or someone you love has been injured by a sports-related concussion, you may be entitled to compensation.