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Spirit and Letter

From NBC SportsWorld:

If you’ve been coming here for a while, you probably know a bit about how my goofy mind works. I cannot stop thinking about stuff that seems illogical to me.

Well, the fact that the NFL so clearly sees the hit that Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier unloaded on Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard in the NFL playoffs as LEGAL (all capital letters) is one of those illogical things. I simply could not see how a hit leading with the crown of the helmet could be considered LEGAL when the NFL rulebook states, unequivocally, that a hit leading with the crown of the helmet is ILLEGAL.

So, I looked into it, with the help of Peter King, the NFL’s official video and, mostly, former VP of Officiating Mike Pereira. It turns out there is a very clear reason why the hit is considered LEGAL now and will be considered LEGAL unless the rule gets changed. But the answer probably won’t be very satisfying to you. It wasn’t to me. It comes down to a simple fact: The NFL rulebook isn’t about what is written. It is about what is unwritten.

Here is the story: Letter of the Law

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8 Responses to Spirit and Letter

  1. duedx says:

    Ancient history man. Weren’t there games this weekend?

    • Spencer says:

      It’s interesting, and anyway this is more about the rule than the event that sparked this

    • MCD says:

      Regardless of it being “ancient”, I was still very much interested in the explanation as I was befuddled on how no infraction was called. Now I know.

  2. Gooch says:

    What puzzles me is if a league official can succinctly explain the spirit of the law in about two sentences, why didn’t they simply write them down and make that the letter of the law? Wouldn’t that make it easier for officials to interpret and fans/anyone reading the rule to understand?

    • invitro says:

      Maybe though it’s simple to do that for this particular rule, it’s not simple to do it for every one of the rules, or at least the work required would be worth more than the benefit. Just playing devil’s advocate — I’m strongly in favor of the rules in the rulebook equalling the rules as they are called. I love the NBA, but as everyone knows, the difference between the rules as written and as called is an enormous joke.

    • Gooch says:

      I thought it was interesting to see this under the subheading “Points of Emphasis” on the NFL’s page about new rules for the 2015-2016 season.

      “The league will continue to strictly enforce all rules that encourage player safety. Players must avoid hitting or blocking opponents in the head or neck area, or using the crown or hairline parts of the helmet to make forcible contact anywhere on the body. The league will focus on eliminating these tactics from the game.”

      http://operations.nfl.com/the-rules/new-rules-for-the-2015-16-season/

      (I realize I’m beating a dead horse here, but only in spirit… not in letter. Wait, which one draws a penalty again?).

  3. invitro says:

    Actually, the simplest reply to “I simply could not see how a hit leading with the crown of the helmet could be considered LEGAL when the NFL rulebook states, unequivocally, that a hit leading with the crown of the helmet is ILLEGAL” might just be to ask Joe what he thinks about an everyday mismatch like happens with travelling in the NBA: the rulebook unequivocally considered travelling to be illegal, while the refs consider it legal most of the time, if a player is famous enough, anyway. This apparently seems logical to most people, maybe even Joe, and the reason why is likely very similar to the reason why for the helmet hit rule enforcement.

  4. Will says:

    Joe’s writing on rules interpretation and replay has been excellent. We need to change the way we think about how rules are to be applied: https://hostsoferror.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/23/

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