NFL's leaping ban is the lazy way out, makes fun and talent illegal

If a player is too good for his sport, it's OK to change the rules to stop him? The NFL ban on leaping has some bad precedent.

That spectacularly exciting, nimble, athletic, genius, bend-the-laws-of-physics, expand-the-horizons thing NFL players started doing a couple of years ago to liven up one of the stalest plays in their sport? The NFL says they can't do it anymore. For their own good, the league says.

OK.

The sport that's marginally safer than being pushed out of a moving car on the interstate;the one that’s spent the last decade in court fighting former players who insist they were never told they might be getting permanent brain damage ...that sport on Tuesday decidedto outlaw a move because, some day, maybe soon, but eventually, somebody might get hurt.

Now they’re worried about that.

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The outlawed move, everyone knows by now, is the leap over the line to block place kicks — the defensive player’s perfectly-timed hurdle over his linemen and the men blocking them, the sticking of the landing right in front of the holder, followed by the relatively-simple act of getting in the way of the kick.

Nobody who sees it (and isn't paid to stop it) does notlove it. The players who have pulled it off have become legends. It's the X-factor of all X-factors. Think moving extra points back added drama? This is drama.

The teams trying to prevent it, though, hate it.

But they're supposed to hate it.

One must be ready to cross a lot of lines, physically and morally, to stop it. And even then, chances are that playerwon't, because if another player is able to pull itoff … he’s just better. He won that battle. Better hope thekicker gets the kick off in time.That's all.

But forget all that now, because as expected, the competition committee at the annual league meetingin Phoenix ruled it out of existence.

They had their reasons lined up in advance.

"We’re not going to put players in a position in which we think there is an unreasonable risk of injury,"Falcons president and competition committee chairman Rich McKay said in apre-meetingconference call last week.

He made it clear thatthe NFL Players Association agreed fully with them about the goal of the rule, and added, "When we see a technique in our game, athletic or non-athletic, that is a danger to the player, we try to as a league respond by a rule limiting that danger."

There was also this from NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent: "Frankly, we've also heard our coaches tell us, you know they're now coaching to defend that leaper, which really could create a real safety issue with that defender coming down and now jumping over. So the inevitable is going to happen."

And according to MMQB.com, the competition committee was told this by Hall of Fame coach John Madden, a leader on the safety committee and the coaches’ subcommittee: "Why should we wait till somebody gets seriously hurt on a play like this before we do anything about it? It’s got to be outlawed."

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Pre-emptive safety rules are rare, to put it mildly. Almost every other time, the NFL has outlawed things because they are proven to be dangerous — sometimes long before they get around to acting on it, to many players’ detriment. Head slaps. Cut blocks. Horse-collar tackles. Launching. Hitting defenseless receivers. Every rule that protects quarterbacks in every situation (excluding, as always, Cam Newton).

This play was outlawed because someone might get hurt. No one has yet, though.

The danger came from what teams were coaching players to do to counter it. The counter-moves put the leaper’s safety at risk. They threaten the leaper with a landing on his head, neck, back, knee, someplace vulnerable.

All things considered, to protect players, the logical move would be to make the unsafe counter-moves illegal. Then, try to get yourself a proficient leaper. If you can’t … there shouldn't be a rule to hide behind.

It's the NFL's answer to the NCAA outlawing dunking to stop Lew Alcindor, or basketball widening the lane to slow down Wilt Chamberlain, or golf Tiger-proofing its courses.

The NFL took the lazy way out.

They did more than outlaw a play. They outlawed the players who can make it. That's not how any sport should be run.


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