A.J. Hawk: NFL's New Helmet Rule Confusing, Difficult To Enforce

A.J. Hawk applauds the NFL for trying to make the game safer, but he has no idea how the league's new helmet rule can – or will – be enforced

After Hours with Amy Lawrence
October 30, 2018 - 8:15 am

USA Today Images

In May, NFL owners approved a new helmet rule: “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” Contact does not have to be with an opponent’s head or neck area, either; it could be contact with the torso, hips, or legs. This rule applies to all players at all times and carries a 15-yard penalty.

In theory, this is a great rule. In practice, maybe not so much.

“It seems like every time they try to change something or clarify the rule, they end up confusing more and more people, and no one really has any clarity right now,” former NFL linebacker A.J. Hawk said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The players, of course, have to deal with it. They’re the ones that are going to be getting fined and (flagged) for certain hits. But the question, too, is you’re just making it more difficult by the day for these refs. The refs already have enough judgment calls to make, and now you add this one? It just seems like nobody really knows what is illegal and what’s not. I know the NFL is trying to figure it out and they claim they’re going to clarify it as the season gets closer, but I think they’re running out of time. So it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out going into Week 1.”

Hawk said players won’t cut refs any slack as they navigate the rule change. 

“Oh, no, of course not,” he said. “You can’t – unless it helps your team out. You just hope it evens out. If they miss one against the other team, then you hope they miss one on your team. The refs, I don’t envy their job. Those guys have a very tough gig and they get graded week in and week out, just like the players do. So it’s not an easy gig.”

Hawk, 34, won a national championship at Ohio State, won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers, and played in the NFL for 11 seasons. He’s been around football all his life – and done it very, very well.

And even he has no idea how this rule can – or will – be enforced.

“It’s almost impossible to not have your helmet make contact with the opponent when you’re tackling,” he said. “Especially if you’re in the trenches around the line, then your head is going to be in there. Now I don’t even know what the proper way to tackle is. The only thing I know for a fact is that it’s always much safer to have your head up and to be hitting with your face-mask and the top of your forehead when you go in for a tackle. When you lower your head, that’s when yo get those spinal fractures down your spine and guys end up getting paralyzed. You got to find a way to keep your head up and drive through the ball-carrier, but I don’t really know what you can lead with now. 

“If they’re saying your head can’t really make any contact with certain areas of the opponent you’re trying to tackle, I just don’t know how it’s going to play out because it’s going to happen, whether you’re trying to or not.”