Helmet-to-helmet collision

Helmet-to-helmet collisions are occurrences in gridiron football when two players' helmets make head-to-head contact with a high degree of force. Intentionally causing a helmet-to-helmet collision is a penalty in most football leagues, including many high school leagues. [1]

Despite its long association with American football, this type of contact is now considered to be dangerous play by league authorities due to the potential of causing serious injury. Major football leagues, such as the National Football League (NFL), Canadian Football League (CFL), and NCAA, have taken a tougher stance on helmet-to-helmet collisions after the US Congress launched an investigation into the effects repeated concussions have on football players and the new discoveries of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).[2] Other possible injuries include head traumas, spinal cord injuries, and even death. Helmet manufacturers are constantly improving their designs in order to best protect their users against injuries from such collisions.[3]

The crackdown on helmet-to-helmet collisions has resulted in reappraisals of the sport. An image of two helmets smashing together—which had been a staple for 20 years—was dropped in 2006 from Monday Night Football on ESPN. The NFL also ordered Toyota Motor Company to stop using a similar helmet collision in its advertisements.[4]

Rules by league

  • The Canadian Football League prohibits the use of the helmet to butt, ram, or spear an opponent. Players are penalized for what is not deemed to be an 'acceptable' football play.[5]
  • In the NCAA, helmet-to-helmet collisions have been banned for years, but they were illegal only when intentional. In 2005, the NCAA took the word "intentional" out of the rules in hopes of reducing these incidents even further.[6] Beginning with the 2013 season, players who are flagged for such hits are automatically ejected from the game in addition to a 15-yard penalty, under the new "targeting" rule, subject to a replay review. If the ejection occurred in the second half or in overtime, the player must also sit out the first half of his team's next scheduled game. This rule was revised in 2014 to overturn the yardage penalty in addition to the ejection if the player's hit is not flagrant. The rule was again revised in 2016 to allow replay officials to call penalties if they were missed by on-field officials and overturn incorrect penalties. [7] The NCAA is currently proposing to modify the policy again to allow players to remain in the game if there is insufficient evidence for replay officials to confirm or overturn a call, but the 15 yard penalty would still be enforced. [8] Beginning with the 2019 season, players who are penalized for three or more targeting fouls in the same season will receive a one-game suspension in addition to any ejection penalties.
  • In the NFL, helmet-to-helmet hits are banned, with a penalty of 15 yards for violations. In 2010, the NFL placed its policies pertaining to these incidents under review, considering heavy fines and suspensions.[4] In 2017, NFL has adopted the NCAA's "targeting" rules, which will not only penalize players, but will review the play and automatically throw any offenders out from the game. [9] The first suspension under this rule occurred on December 13, 2011: James Harrison received a single game's suspension after such a hit caused Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy to suffer a concussion.[10]

Opposition to helmet-to-helmet collision bans

Despite the safety concerns, in 2010, some professional football players criticized bans on helmet-to-helmet collisions on the basis that gridiron football is a game that is supposed to be composed of the world's biggest and best athletes, and placing such restrictions "waters down" the game.[11]

The NHL is also fighting the narrative that concussions cause CTE.[12]


Helmet to helmet collisions can cause major problems on and off the field. The main effect of helmet to helmet collisions is concussions. There are about 3.8 million sports related concussions in the United States every year, but up to half of them are not reported.[13] Experiencing a concussion increases one's likelihood of getting another.[14] Head-to-head collisions and resulting concussions may occur in a variety of sports, including football, hockey and lacrosse.[15]

See also


  1. "High School Football Rules Changes Continue Focus on Risk Minimization". www.nfhs.org. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  2. Gill, Sam (October 27, 2010). "Helmet-to-helmet hypocrisy: NFL, NCAA blame football players - when the problem is football programs". New York Daily News. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  3. Garrett, Melanie (December 2010). Under His Helmet: A Football Devotional. p. 23. ISBN 9781617391743.
  4. Thomas, Katie (October 21, 2010). "N.F.L.'s Policy on Helmet-to-Helmet Hits Makes Highlights Distasteful". New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  5. Bucholtz, Andrew. "Concussions: the CFL's rules and the impact on defensive players". Yahoo Sports. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  6. Nowinski, Christopher (September 2006). Head games: football's concussion crisis from the NFL to youth leagues. pp. 104–05. ISBN 9781597630139.
  7. http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/14930750/replay-officials-given-greater-input-targeting-penalty-calls-next-season
  8. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2017/02/15/college-footballs-rules-committee-consider-middle-ground-targeting-calls/97968808/
  9. D'Andrea, Christian (March 28, 2017). "NFL officials just OK'd a rule that brings the NCAA's 'targeting' calls to the big leagues". SBNation.com. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  10. Klemko, Robert (December 13, 2011). "Steelers LB James Harrison suspended one game". USA Today. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  11. Gregory, Sean (Oct 22, 2010). "Can Football Finally Tackle Its Injury Problem?". Time Magazine. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  12. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/04/hockey-cte-todd-ewen-brain-injury/587818/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. Harmon, Kimberly G.; Drezner, Jonathan; Gammons, Matthew; Guskiewicz, Kevin; Halstead, Mark; Herring, Stan; Kutcher, Jeff; Pana, Andrea; Putukian, Margot; Roberts, William (January 2013). "American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement". Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 23 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1097/jsm.0b013e31827f5f93.
  14. "HEADS UP Concussion in Youth Sports: Online Training Transcript" (PDF). CDC. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  15. Gruson, Damien (September 2014). "Football, concussions and biomarkers: Ready for more touchdowns?". Clinical Biochemistry. 47 (13–14): 1345–1346. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2014.04.085.
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