Rules, Norms, and Practices in Football

There are three factors governing the level of injuries we see in American football.  There are formal rules, the “code” of individual conduct, and the way that equipment interacts with the basic techniques of tackling and blocking.  Given the current conception of “the code,” having helmets actually makes concussions MORE likely.  Which might seem surprising.  Formal rule changes alone won’t solve the problem.

Or, so say I in this article in the New York Times…

Published on:
Author: Mike Munger
  • Bloke in North Dorset

    World Rugby have tightened the rules further. Going anywhere near the head and neck in the tackle, even accidentally, is now a penalty and depending on the outcome can be a red card if the ref thinks force was used. http://www.worldrugby.org/news/213339

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  • urstoff

    I wonder, though, if removing helmets might cause the incidental death rate to go up even if concussion rates go down. Also, is there a running back on earth that is willing to run the ball up the gut into walls of offensive and defensive lineman without a helmet?

    • j_m_h

      Weren’t they doing that 100 years ago?

      Change the equipment and certain rules and norms have to change no doubt but then again, if we change the structure too much does it stop being football and become some other sport –not necessarily a bad thing.

      One group left out of the is the spectators — and directly linked the marketing and profits from ads. Not only does the player’s code need to change that of the spectators does as well. Again, it’s a fine line here because only a few of the bad seeds like seeing any sports player carried out on a stretcher but all want to see hard contact. And football is the definition of a contact sport as far as I can tell.

      You see the same type of thing in fighting arts (UFC and the like). The best educated fans get the strategies and techniques and appreciate that more than just the blood but a lot of those watching are ignorant and find a really well contested, technical chess match better two highly skilled fighters boring and tune out quickly.

      I’m guessing the point of Mike’s article is along the ideas of good intentions and unintended consequences that are actually producing the bad intended to be prevented. I know we can find lots of such examples and it’s just a particular instances of the statistical problem of Type 1 and Type 2 errors — we will never have corner solutions (utopian outcomes, e.g., 0 pollution solutions) and will always live in the gray where we make trade offs in the hope of getting things better rather than worse.

      Might be interesting to see this tied back into a bigger picture view that relates to social and political problems libertarians are trying to work towards solving. So seems like the revelation that the acts will choose the level of risk they are comfortable with regardless of the requirements by rule-makers to mitigate certain aspects of the risks (skydiving example) doesn’t really get us anywhere.

      • urstoff

        The build of football players 100 years ago were so different from those today they might as well be different species. There are unintended consequences in adding helmets, and there are unintended consequences in removing them. Path dependency matters. You might not have many serious head traumas or deaths were professional football players built like rugby players, but they’re not. Specialization means that lineman are much bigger than your average rugby player and receivers/secondary much faster, all of which could contribute to deaths until the population of players itself adjusts.