Top 10 Football Safety Rules

Updated April 17, 2017

Since football is a high contact sport, safety rules are essential to prevent serious injuries. However, even with rules, injuries still occur. Thus, the NFL and other leagues often add new rules and penalties to deter players from tackles that result in more injuries such as the "horse collar" tackle. Safety rules may not eliminate football injuries but at least they help to decrease them.

Equipment and Fighting Rules

  1. Most modern leagues require that players wear helmets. Helmets help to prevent concussions and more serious brain damage.

  2. The NFL and other leagues have several penalties to deter players from fighting. Punching, elbowing and kicking are just a few of the "fighting" related penalties that result in an automatic first down and 15 yards awarded to the victim's team.

  3. If a player takes off his helmet and uses it as a weapon, the resulting penalty is an automatic game dismissal plus 15 yards. In addition, players are not allowed to spear players with their helmets or lead into a tackle with their helmets (spearing penalties are also 15 yards and a first down but only result in game disqualification if especially flagrant).

Player Specific Rules

  1. Roughing the passer is a rule designed to protect the quarterback. Officials will call roughing the passer if they believe a player ran into the quarterback after the quarterback released a pass. Roughing the passer penalties result in 15 yards for the offence and an automatic first down. Officials will usually acknowledge a margin of error for cases in which players accidentally hit the quarterback due to the inability to stop their forward momentum.

  2. Roughing the kicker is a similar penalty designed to protect kickers and punters. Officials call roughing-the-kicker penalties if a player runs into and knocks down the kicker/punter without touching the ball to block the kick. Like roughing the passer, roughing the kicker is a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the kicking team.

  3. Kick returners may opt to call a fair catch if they believe they will not be able to execute a worthwhile or safe runback. Fair catches are indicated by a waved hand. To protect the kick returner, opposing players must honour the fair catch and not hit the returner. Even if a fair catch isn't called for, the opposing team must give the kick returner space (usually 5 yards) to catch the football and ensure the returner's immediate safety.

Blocking and Tackling Rules

  1. Although blocking is a major part of football, certain types of blocks are prohibited to protect players from injury. These blocks include chop blocks and below-the-belt blocks/clips. Illegal blocks are 15-yard penalties that also result in an automatic first down.

  2. A horse-collar tackle is a tackle in which a defensive player pulls an offensive player down by the inside of the player's back collar (including his jersey or shoulder pads). Implemented in the 2006 season, the horse collar penalty was a result of many serious injuries. Horse collars result in a 15-yard penalty plus an automatic first down.

  3. The face mask penalty deters players from grabbing a face mask as a block method or to tackle players. A jerk of a player's face mask may cause serious injury such as a neck sprain. The exact penalty for grabbing a face mask varies, but always results in an automatic first down for the victimised team and a yardage penalty (five or 15 yards depending on the severity of the face mask and whether the official believes the penalty was intentional)

  4. Unnecessary roughness is a penalty that refers to overly aggressive tackles

(such as picking up a player and body slamming him), hits after a player is already tackled (late hits) or hits after a player is out of bounds. Unnecessary roughness is a 15-yard penalty that results in an automatic first down.

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About the Author

Alexander Grouch is a freelance screenwriter, journalist and children's book author. He currently writes music reviews for "The Red Alert." Grouch has visited all 48 contiguous states and plans to document his journeys in a travelogue. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Africana studies from Brown University.