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Falcons president: Crown-of-helmet rule not about avoiding litigation

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

'It's about protecting the players,' McKay said. (USATSI)
'It's about protecting the players,' McKay said. (USATSI)
When the owners voted 31-1 to make it illegal for runners or tacklers to lead with the crown of the helmet, the backlash from players -- both present and past -- was predictable. "Absurd," "a joke" and "doesn't make any sense" were popular complaints, but as the competition committee would tell you, this is all about making the game safer.

Fair enough, but it's more than that, right? NFL Network's Albert Breer tweeted Wednesday that "Coaches and players can complain, but the owners are the ones voting, and they're under a tremendous amount of legal liability now." And that reality led us to observe at the time: Once you come to grips with that, the rule makes a lot of sense. It also means we should expect more changes in the coming years, in the name of safety but with the underlying legal implications driving the decisions.

But Falcons president Rich McKay, who also serves as chairman of the competition committee, said Thursday that litigation has nothing to do with the crown-of-the-helmet rule.

“Absolutely not,” McKay told ProFootballTalk, “it's about protecting the players. I've been on the committee for 20 years and it's never been a discussion in our room of, ‘Well we're worried about a litigation about this or a litigation about a knee injury.' We're worried about player safety and I think one of the great things about the league is it's been a focus of ours for a long time and there's such a long process that goes into it."

To be fair, until recently, former players haven't been lining up to join lawsuits against the league either. Still, McKay points out that such decisions aren't reached willy-nilly.

“People think that, well, there's a Competition Committee, they take guys, and they come up with these rules," he continued. "There's such a long process. This is a rule we've actually talked about for a couple of years with the [NFL] Players Association, with the Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, with Coach Madden's subcommittee, all of those things. So the reasoning behind these rules is, number one, the short-term health and safety of the players and, number two, the long-term health and safety of our players.”

Whatever the impetus behind the rules change, the biggest issue doesn't appear to be the rule itself, but the lack of details regarding the specifics of it. On Wednesday after it passed, Rams coach and competition committee member Jeff Fisher called the rule "a huge victory for the National Football League."

"Let's bring the shoulder back," he said. "We've lost the shoulder in the game. Let's bring it back.” Fisher added that while the play will be a judgment call for officials and isn't reviewable, it won't be "over-officiated."

“The key thing here is you can deliver a blow with shoulder, with face, with hairline," he said. "It's just deliberately striking with the crown, the top of the helmet.”

In theory, it makes sense. As a practical matter, we'll have to wait and see.

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