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Viewpoint: The NFL is Going Soft. Clay Matthews Penalty Foreshadows Future

The NFL is becoming flag football, players and fans are growing tried of it.

Tom Spurling

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Football is a physical sport, a rough sport, likely even the most violent out for the four major sports in America. Football is a game of 11 large, powerful men attempting to halt advances down a field of 11 other powerful men. Football is a contact sport, a sport meant for aggression and violence.

The NFL seems to disagree with everything stated above.

During the Green Bay Packers contest against the Washington Redskins Sunday veteran linebacker Clay Matthews did what he has done his entire career, tackle the quarterback. The captain of the Packer defense has made a living, and a good one, rushing the passer and creating sacks for his team.

In his prior nine seasons, Matthews was penalized just three times for roughing the quarterback. This season through three games the linebacker has received three roughing the QB penalties.

No, Matthews has not abruptly become a devious opponent hell bent on injuring the other team. Matthews is victim to an ever changing set of rules put out by the NFL in order to protect the quarterback.

Per section two article 13 of the NFL player Conduct policy, roughing the passer is described as:

“Any physical acts against passers during or just after a pass which, in the Referee’s judgment, are unwarranted by the circumstances of the play”.

Now, what does this mean? Does this mean you can’t hit the quarterback while he throws? No, that can’t be because that would eliminate the defense’s ability to rush the passer and create a sack, essentially turning football into flag football.

Does the rule mean when you tackle the quarterback you can’t hurt him? Well, no, because getting tackled by a 250 pound man at full speed is the definition of a tackle and those are naturally going to hurt.

Unfortunately for fans of the NFL and its defensive players, the rule was created with the intentions to contradict the way defenses have been taught to play the sport for decades.

The NFL is a business, and a business is only as good as its strongest advertisement. And NFL the player who brings in the most tickets and jersey sales each season usually plays quarterback. So naturally, the NFL would be invested in keeping their quarterbacks as healthy as possible.

Once the quarterback era took off in the 90s and early 2000s, the NFL realized it needed to keep quarterbacks on the field or else the game would become less interesting. Which introduces the roughing the passer penalty.

The penalty began by prohibiting any contact to the quarterback above the shoulders, essentially protecting quarterbacks from receiving concussions and missing one to two weeks of the season. Then the rule was adapted to include hits below the knee, protecting QBs from ACL injuries that would sideline them for a year or longer.

Now, the NFL is completely forbidding any contact with the quarterback by a defensive player. If that sounds like an overreaction, check out the hit Clay Matthews laid out on Kirk Cousins this last Sunday.

Matthews initiates contact with quarterback Alex Smith as he throws the ball, avoiding his head or knees, driving his shoulder into the chest of Cousins, and then falls forward onto the quarterback, the place the laws of physics would expect his momentum to take him. The linebacker even spreads his arms out wide to express that he had given up on the play.

Matthews was called for roughing the passer which resulted in a 15 yard penalty, his third of the season.

When asked after the game by the Green Bay Press Gazette what he thought of the call, Matthews stated, “Unfortunately this league’s going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like. I think they’re getting soft” He went on to say how he understands the league has to protect their players, however an overcorrection is not what the NFL needs.

The NFL is a business, and a business is only as good as its strongest advertisement.

Matthews could not be more correct in his statements. After the league was scolded for hiding its knowledge of the effects and connection between football and concussions, they have responded by slowly creating a league without contact.

The misunderstanding was that fans and players did not want a softer league, just a more open and honest one. Players and parents of youth athletes want the opportunity to choose whether they should play football or not with an informed decision that the NFL deprived them of.

The so-called victim of this heinous act by Matthews, Alex Smith, said in a press conference after the game that the call was a tough one and in his opinion Matthews was “just playing football.”

In week one, Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, another victim of Matthews apparent tear through the NFL, had similar views to Smith and said he was surprised he saw a flag on the play.

A common misconception is that NFL players are purposefully trying to injure the quarterback when making a tackle. But anyone who has played the sport at any level, including myself, would tell you that the speed of the game does not allow you to make a clear choice like that. Making a tackle is a natural reaction and is done so almost involuntarily once contact is made.

The problem is guys like Roger Goodell, someone who has not played the game, are behind the rules. These rule changes are for business, not for safety, and once fans catch on the NFL is in for a big surprise.

Are you looking for digital journalism training and experience? Are you a journalism major who wants to take your career to the next level? CMN’s Digital Journalism course gives you real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to journalism influencers and mentors, and a great place to display your work. You can get academic credit too. Check out the Digital Journalism Course here.

Tom is a student at Fisher College in Boston. Tom spends his time conquering video games and exploring his city of Boston. His favorite part of writing is the stories and hopes to tell them for years to come.

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