Dear Caretaker, CFL BOG, and Commissioner,
Our new commissioner touts himself as a champion of player safety. This is an excellent and progressive stance for the head of the league to take and is widely supported. It also presents an opportunity to bring something into the public eye that has been over looked by the Board of Governors and the CFL Rules Committee for quite some time.
There is a glaring disparity between what is acceptable for an offensive or “team A? player, and what is allowed for a defensive or “team B? player, and can put the defender at unnecessary risk for serious injury because of the way the rules have been written and are enforced. There is in fact a special exception and consideration for the ball carrier specifically and for offensive players in general.
Contacting the head of another player is considered a dangerous play. There are two very specific rules that reinforce that the league feels that this is true and needs to be limited if not taken completely out of the game. Those rules are “Face Masking? an unnecessary roughness penalty, and “Hands to the Face? an illegal block. These plays are penalties because they can be the catalyst for forceful or even violent impacts or contortions that needlessly expose athletes to the potential of head and neck injuries.
We all understand the importance of protecting players from a play that can cause catastrophic injury, but the rule as it is used now allows an exception that continues to expose players to this risk by allowing the ball carrier to block, impede, and even redirect another players body and movement by the head and facemask. This is not only counter to the philosophy of promoting player safety, but also gives the ball carrier an advantage no other player has.
To clearly illustrate the disparity, here are Facemasking and Hands to the Face side by side for comparison and images of these actions during a CFL game:
Article 3 – Unnecessary Roughness
A player shall be penalized for any act of unnecessary roughness against an
opponent, including but not limited to:
(e) Grasping an opponent’s face guard,
h) Contacting an opponent above the shoulders in an unnecessarily rough
manner, including the long snapper on kicks from scrimmage and convert
Article 4 – Illegal Block-Hands To The Face
No player of either team may thrust his hands forward above the frame to contact
the opponent on the neck, face, head or facemask. [u]This does not apply to a ball
carrier using a “stiff arm? or “straight arm? tactic where there is no grasping of the
So why is it not considered a dangerous play when the ball carrier contacts another player above the shoulders and uses the neck / head / face / helmet / facemask to forcefully direct the tacklers body, when we can see that if at any point any of the remaining 23 players on the field use the same tactic their team is penalized for what is considered dangerous, unnecessary, and unfair?
(a typical “straight arm? move by a ball carrier)
(facemasking by a defender)
The only difference between these two plays when comparing team a to team b, is that one of the players has the ball while gripping an opponent’s face mask.
The apparent correction to this oversight is to treat ball carriers as every other player on the field and penalize them for contacting the Face/Facemask/head, and encourage them to play within the rules by executing the “straight arm? at or below shoulder level only.
There is one other rule that specifically was written for player safety regarding helmets;
Article 2 – Helmets
A player shall be required to wear a helmet when on the Field of Play and shall
not voluntarily remove it while the play is in progress.
PENALTY: L10 PDB
NOTE: If a ball carriers helmet comes off, the play shall be blown dead
The rule clearly states that if the ball carrier looses his helmet the play will be stopped. This was written to prevent a serious injury from occurring during a tackle, and is quite obviously a good rule. The issue is again is that other players are overlooked and the play continues if their brain bucket happens to pop off.
To add to the danger and complexity of a play where an athlete is not protected from head and face injuries, the rules currently state that other than the ball carrier if a player looses their helmet that they are no longer allowed to participate in the play. This helps promote safety, but creates more disparity when on team is forced to finish a play with only 11 men on the field.
A perfect example of this situation occurend in the July 16 game of Hamilton vs. Montreal, when an offensive lineman’s helmet came off during the play. As the rule stands, the offensive lineman is no longer allowed to participate in the play, forcing his team to finish the down with 11 men. In the case of players at the line of scrimmage, and offensive linemen in particular this opens up other players like quarterbacks to hellacious hits they are not expecting – because the player who lost their helmet is assigned to protect them.
Changing the rule so that the play is whistled dead any time a players helmet comes off during the play restores balance and prevents teams from having to play with a disadvantage because an equipment malfunction. This also prevents a situation where a player continues to be involved in a play and could be seriously injured, because the illegal participation rule regarding helmets is only assessed after the play and does not actually prevent a needlessly dangerous situation.
I hope that our commissioner and BOG take these two issues as seriously, and work to amend the rule disparity that not only creates unfair advantages, but also exposes our athletes unnecessarily to the risk of injury. This can be done with two simple changes that are suggested; not allowing running backs to make contact above the shoulders during a “straight arm?, and by whistling the play dead on any play where a helmet comes off of any of the 24 players on the field.