On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: *MurphyTakes5@packers.com.*
The biggest news coming out of the recent Annual League Meeting was the adoption of a new rule prohibiting the lowering of the head and initiating contact with the helmet. Originally, the Competition Committee was just going to make this a clarification of the current rule prohibiting players from ramming, butting or spearing. However, as we watched the injuries that resulted from this tactic, noted the significant increase in concussions this year and heard strongly from coaches about the need to take this tactic out of the game, we decided to make it a separate, new rule. As a new rule, there will be more focus on this tactic and it will help us educate players on the proper way to block and tackle. Also, the ram, butt or spear rule has been in place several years, and is seldom called.
First and foremost, the helmet is meant to be protective. Over time, though, players have used the helmet as a weapon. The two vicious hits on Davante Adams last year were good examples of the problems associated with this tactic. My hope is that this new rule will encourage players to keep their heads up while tackling and blocking, and to use their shoulders rather than their helmets. The sport of football is at an inflection point. There is great concern about the safety of the game, and some parents are reluctant to allow their children to play the game. I think, for the future of the game, it is important for the NFL to take the lead on this issue now. I’m hopeful that this new rule will not only change the behavior of our players, but also encourage players at the college, high school and youth levels to no longer use the helmet as a weapon, and for a similar rule to be adopted at these other levels.
Now, on to your questions….
John from Verona, WI
I noticed that several players, including Richard Sherman, voiced their displeasure with the new Use of the Helmet rule. They think it will make it harder for defensive players to play the game.
*Thanks, John. I also saw those comments. It is certainly understandable that players would question the new rule, since it is a fairly big change for them. We heard similar comments when we adopted rules to protect defenseless receivers. Defensive players, especially safeties, questioned how they would be able to play under this new rule. As a former safety, I was sympathetic to these concerns. When I played, I didn’t have to worry about where I hit a receiver, I just had to break up the pass. What we’ve seen, though, is that the players have adjusted and you rarely see hits to the heads of receivers any more. The key to make this new rule effective is to educate our players, coaches and officials about the rule, and to show players that they can play effectively by using their shoulders. The rule is meant to protect players – both the player being hit and the player initiating the contact (from not only concussions, but also spinal injuries). It is a big step for the game. In the past, we’ve protected players in certain situations (i.e. defenseless receivers, blindside blocks), but this rule penalizes a tactic and provides much broader protection for players. *
James from London, England
Dear Mr. Murphy,
Coming from England, I had to choose a team to support rather than being affiliated to a particular American state or city. I, of course, chose the Packers. What do you think the reasons are that all my American friends and indeed Google agreed that the Packers are the ‘nicest and friendliest team in the NFL’?
*Thanks for choosing the Packers as your team, James. I did not realize that Google thinks we are the nicest and friendliest team in the NFL. Very nice of Google. I think the main reason for this is our ownership structure. We’re owned by the community rather than by a wealthy individual. People also like the idea of a team from such a small market competing and winning against teams from big cities. I’ve always thought that we are a lot of fans’ second favorite team (after their hometown team). Finally, I think Lambeau Field is also a part of this belief. It’s an iconic stadium, with a very fan friendly atmosphere and our fans treat fans from visiting teams with great respect. I hope that we are able to play in your hometown sometime soon, as does Ken, below. *
Ken from London, England
Will the Packers play in London by 2020?
*I hope so, Ken. We’ve been working on this for a number of years. We have a large fan base in Europe, and I know our fans in the U.S. would love to travel to London. I think it would be good for the NFL as well as the Packers. It has to be the right opponent, one that is willing to give up a home game against us. The best chance is likely with a team that is playing in a temporary stadium or is hosting a Super Bowl, as the NFL can require these teams to play a home game overseas. I thought we had a chance this year, but neither the Rams nor Jets were willing to give up a Packers home game. In 2019 & 2020, we will play the following teams on the road: Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, Chiefs, Saints, Buccaneers, Colts and Texans. One of these games should represent our best chance to play an international game by 2020, as it is unlikely that NFC North opponents would give up a home game against us. *
Question from Josh
Hello Mr. Murphy.
Last season, I saw Rob Gronkowski wrestling-style body slam a defenseless player and JuJu Smith-Schuster give a horrible blindside helmet-to-helmet hit and then taunt the injured player when he was down. Yet both of the offenders stayed in the game while guys like Michael Crabtree, Aqib Talib, AJ Green, and Jalen Ramsey get ejected for fighting. From a fan’s perspective, it seems as though the league has no real accountability in how to handle egregious players. It’s disheartening to see the league continuously talk about these safety issues, but then we see Smith-Schuester on the next snap. I am curious to know if this will be a major topic at upcoming owners meetings.
Thank you. Josh
You make a great point Josh, and this was a major topic at the Annual Meeting. Coming out of the meeting, we wanted to take a number of steps to take these type of plays out of the game. First, we are going to give the Officiating Office in New York more authority to eject players for the non-football acts. Gronkowski’s body slam was after the play (and outrageous), and would not be considered a football act. If a flag is thrown on the field, the New York office will now be able to eject a player for this type of act. In the past, it has been easier for officials to eject players for specific, objective acts such as fighting or touching an official, as opposed to ejecting for a football play. During brawls, it is difficult for the officials on the field to see everything that is happening, and the new policy should be helpful by allowing the Officiating Office to review the video. Also, a key part of the new Use of the Helmet rule is that players can be ejected for violating the rule. The most effective way to change players’ behavior (and influence coaches) is to take them off the field immediately, rather than to fine or suspend them after the fact. Officials are often reluctant to eject players for a football play. For this reason, it is likely that if a player is ejected under the new rule, the ejection will be subject to review.
Jim from Sturgeon Bay, WI
Mark, I have heard you talk about the NFL Concussion Settlement and I know that you were pleased that the League was able to settle the lawsuit and establish a fund to assist former players. I was surprised to read that several former players were upset that the Fund was taking so long to compensate players. What is the status of the Concussion Settlement Fund?
Jim, I am very pleased that we were able to settle the lawsuit brought several years ago by former players. It was obviously very negative publicity for the League to be seen as fighting former players in court, and I know that there are many players who are in great need. The League established a Fund that is estimated to be $1 billion to compensate players who have suffered cognitive impairment. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody did an excellent job in encouraging the parties to settle as well as in establishing the Fund. The case was officially settled last year. As of March 26, 1,731 retired players had submitted claims for various types of brain damage. So far, 156 former players have received payments totaling $150 million. The criticism from former players (and their attorneys) has been that the process has been slow and that a high percentage of the claims have been denied. There is a court appointed Claims Administrator in place to oversee the claims process. The process has been slowed because the Claims Administrator has identified hundreds of suspicious claims. Christopher Seeger, the Co-Lead Class Counsel for the settlement, recently said that they had worked through the suspected fraudulent claims and that the process was back on track.