Recently, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a "Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport," which sought to define concussions, lay out diagnostic procedures, differentiate between types of concussion victim (teenage athletes vs. adult athletes, for example), and determine how best to manage the risk of brain injury in contact sports. The paper produced a number of resolutions, but PopSci helpfully distilled a couple that are relevant to a recent NFL rule change: first, the study concluded that helmets don't protect athletes from concussions—broken facial bones or busted teeth, yes, but not concussions—and second, "Some sports should consider changing rules when there's clear-cut evidence that something in the sport causes many concussions."
Hence, the NFL's proposal to limit concussions in running backs (and the guys trying to tackle them): Under a new rule, a running back would be penalized 15 yards for lowering his head and running straight into a defender. As Jeff Fisher, described it, "What we’re saying is, in space, one-on-one, head-up, we’re not going to allow you to load up and use the crown of your helmet. It’s an obvious thing.”
It does seem pretty obvious, and it doesn't seem overly punitive or restrictive—as PFT notes in the post linked above, the stomach-churning helmet-to-helmet hit that left Stefan Ridley in the fencing pose during the AFC Championship wouldn't result in a penalty, because he didn't make contact with the "crown" of his helmet. An example of a play that likely would result in a penalty:
Considering that helmets apparently don't protect from concussions, we might welcome the NFL's attempt to limit head-on collisions between its players–whether it's by a series of small rule alterations or some big technology advance, something needs to change so that the NFL will be sustainable and stay appealing considering what we know now about brain injuries. Yet, some people are not on board.
Like Marco Rubio:
I don't understand #nfl anymore. If RB can't lower head what do they do, take on tackler with chest?
#c'monman— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 15, 2013
“I disagree with the rule altogether. It doesn’t make any sense for that position. It sounds like it’s been made up by people who have never played the game of football.’’
And the New York Post, which is so mad it's making multiple puns per sentence:
And if the league doesn’t want its running backs running scared, and its fawning fans frustrated again by overofficiousness, a mindless, misguided rule change must be voted down next week when the owners convene in Phoenix.
The NFL, desperate to stiff-arm the burgeoning number of concussion-driven lawsuits from former players, is mulling a fumble from which running backs would never recover [...]
Use your head, NFL!
You’ve changed the game we love enough already.
Wrap it up. We've heard all we need to. It's a great rule.
Owners will vote on proposed rule changes at their annual meeting this coming week.