NFL cleans up one mess only to create another


(“Oh sure, NOW you fix the catch rule.” — Dez Bryant, probably. Photo by Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)


Let’s say you have a recalcitrant child who won’t clean her room. This may not take much of an imagination for some of you.

And then one day, after weeks of nagging, threatening, and reminders, she finally does. It’s not a perfect job; there’s still a stray sock under the bed, a T-shirt across the back of the chair. But it’s not bad. And you’re so happy she finally did it, you want to lavish her with praise.

Except that it took her weeks to do what she should have done the first time you asked – or more accurately, what she should have done without having to be asked.

Well, your daughter is the NFL and her pig-sty room is the catch rule.

After years of watching case after case of plays we knew were catches get overturned, and having to listen to announcers try to explain a stupid, overwrought rule that made no sense, we finally got some commonsense clarity from the NFL and I can’t even bring myself to say or write anything nice about it. Because it’s so stupid that it took this long to fix something that was so obviously in need of fixing.

By a unanimous vote that shows how easy this should have been all along, the NFL last month changed the language for its catch rule to include the following parameters for defining a catch:

  1. Control of the football
  2. Two feet or another body part down
  3. A football move

That’s it. No “surviving the ground” BS. No breathless Cris Collinsworth questioning of what should be an obvious catch, straining to see whether the ball moved through ad nauseam replays (I still say he should be docked a full paycheck for trying to convince us Zach Ertz’s TD might not have been a catch in the Super Bowl).

Control the ball, get two feet down – or an elbow, or a hip – and make a football move. Like Jesse James’ lunge toward the end zone at the end of the Steelers-Patriots game. Or like Dez Bryant’s dive forward toward the goal line against the Packers in the 2015 playoffs. Or the two full steps Ertz took before diving in the end zone in the Super Bowl.

Remind me again what took so long?

As a parent, though, you know that while it took your daughter weeks to clean her room, it will take her mere hours to turn it into a mess again. And so again it is with the NFL, which tossed another bagful of laundry across the floor with a new rule strengthening a prohibition for defenders leading with the head.

The rule’s heart is in the right place. With what we now know about head injuries and CTE, football’s continued popularity – possibly even its continued existence – depends upon finding ways to limit such injuries.

But there were already rules on the books against leading with the helmet, making this new rule essentially a directive to the league’s referees to penalize every lowered helmet they see, and giving them the power to eject violators.

Anyone who’s ever played football knows you tackle with the shoulder, but to do that you have to lower the head. There are inevitably cases where a defender’s head collides with a ballcarrier, even if the tackler is making a conscious effort to avoid it. If referees consider intent – a dangerous assumption, I know — we may not notice much of a difference this fall. But if they call this rule as strictly as the league appears to want, Sunday afternoons are going to turn into a never-ending parade to the locker room.

Clean up one mess, create another.


Categories: NFL

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