American football is not for the faint hearted. It is a contact sport, a physical game, where players can only be stopped from scoring by being brought to the ground by an opponent. A player who has possession of the football is subjected to bumps and hits, but must actually be tackled and brought to the ground in order to be stopped. Another goal of the defensive player is to hit the ball carrier with enough force to dislodge the ball, and take it himself. Not content to wait for the ball carrier to get careless and “fumble” or drop the ball, defensive players work drills to strip the ball from the offensive player’s hands.
This, as well as tackling, has to be done within a certain framework of rules that are set in place for fairness and to give the game an element of safety. Tacklers are not allowed to use excessive force, but how this is determined in such a bone crushing game is hard to decipher. A tackler cannot kick, punch or trip the ball carrier and it is also illegal to hit a player’s helmet or grab his face mask. A player cannot use his own helmet as a weapon and ram it into an opponent. These are dangerous actions that can cause injury and will draw a strong penalty, even eviction from the game, if detected. However, most other forms of tackling are legal and many a quaterback or wide receiver is laid prone by a tackler outside his field of vision. Often, these tackles, though legal, result in injury to one or even both of the players.
In an attempt at safety, football players wear special protective equipment, such as a padded plastic helmet, and shoulder, hip and knee pads. These pads were introduced to minimize the force of a tackle or encounter with the ground decades ago and have been improved over time with the innovation of new materials such as silicon. Tear away jerseys were introduced, making it no longer possible for a defender to grab his opponent’s clothing and swing him to the ground.
Better, more lightweight padding was devised that impeded the wearers movement less but helped to minimize injury to players. An unintended consequence of these equipment improvements is increasing levels of violence in the game. Players may now hurl themselves and collide with more force without a significant risk of injury. However, when an injury does occur, it is apt to be severe and often season or career-ending.
Although illegal, better helmets have allowed players to use them as weapons, since the injury to the wearer is minimized. To counteract this, a complicated series of penalties has been instituted for various types of contact. Currently, any contact with the helmet of a player constitutes a foul. Quarterbacks and receivers must have better arm mobility and wear less padding than other players, especially defensive players. For this reason, a series of rules designed to protect the quarterback are in effect. If a quarter back is in the actual process of throwing the ball, he is extremely vulnerable. It is illegal to tackle him at this time. This has given rise to a quarterback ploy where he looks like he is going to throw, or feigns a pass to gain time and protection for himself.
American football is violent enough for many parents to discourage their sons from every playing it, but it remains for many a rough and tumble, much beloved sport.