Padanilam: NFL referees continue to ignore player safety
Benjamin Padanilam | Wednesday, November 9, 2016
For a long time, the NFL has been criticized for its lack of concern for player safety.
All one needs to do is look to the way the league refused to recognize the dangerous and potentially fatal consequences of repeated head trauma for players during their careers. It put the brand of the NFL, and the potential damage such an admission could do to that brand, before the players themselves.
But as of late, the NFL has made it a point to address the issues it long ignored. Now, independent neurologists patrol the sidelines should players suffer a head injury during games and need to be checked out. The concussion protocol, while perhaps not perfect, has been bolstered as time has progressed.
Yet, despite these changes, we continue to see examples of player safety in games ignored, particularly as referees fail to protect players during games. One only needs to look to the cases of Cam Newton and, as of Monday, Dan Carpenter to see this is the case.
In Monday night’s game, Buffalo Bills kicker Dan Carpenter was hit at below the waist on a field goal attempt by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman after a whistle had already ruled the play dead. Sherman had been called offsides, claimed to not hear the whistle that blew the play dead and proceeded to take out Carpenter.
Regardless of whether the play by Sherman was intentional or not, it clearly met the standard that has been set for a roughing the kicker penalty. But no call was made by the referees. Fortunately, Carpenter was okay, but the lack of a flag in an obvious case of a penalty by rule is concerning. Sure, this incident was an isolated case, but it establishes a precedent: Players are rewarded, rather than penalized, for aggressive play that could lead to serious injury when penalties are not enforced.
More concerning is the case of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who has repeatedly drawn hits to his helmet while in the pocket this season. In just about any other case, these hits on quarterbacks consistently draw roughing the passer penalties due to the added emphasis on protecting the very players who are iconic of their teams and the league.
But for Newton, these hits — one need only watch a Panthers game from this season or any of the highlights of their games to find an example — have failed to be treated the same way. As a 6-foot-5, 245-pound mobile quarterback, Newton is treated as a runner rather than a passer. While such treatment by referees is fair when he is in fact outside the pocket, treating him that way when he stays in the pocket is subjecting him to the repeated head trauma that the league claims to be protecting its players against.
By refusing to throw the flags they should, referees are putting Newton at greater risk than he already is for head trauma as a quarterback because — as the case with Carpenter — it sets a precedent for players to continue to illegally target Newton without fear of drawing a penalty for it. And we know this to be the case by the very fact it is already a precedent, one which Newton has spoken out against with the hopes of garnering equal treatment as his fellow quarterback brethren receive.
These issues all point to the real problem: Until the NFL addresses the failures and shortcomings of its referees, player safety will continue to be disregarded by all those involved.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.