The NFL: More Than Meets the Eye, Part 1

The NFL is one of the most popular sports in the USA. However, over the past few decades it has slowly started spreading across the world, and now has a growing fan-base in Australia. One of the main obstacles to its continued growth is the multitude of stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the sport that exist in society. These stereotypes hinder the spread of the sport’s popularity, as it reduces the desire of people new to the sport to follow it, as they are led to believe that it probably won’t interest them. As a long-time NFL fan, I’m absolutely in love with the sport, but I also remember that I used to believe these stereotypes as well. Therefore, I made it my goal in this series of articles to try and help debunk some of these myths. Hopefully, can cast aside these preconceived notions after reading these articles, or at the very least give the NFL a chance.

“Anyone can hit anyone, right? Like in the movies?”

This is by far the most widespread belief, that I could just walk onto a field and hit whoever I want. This is exemplified by the “stacks-on” view of the sport, where it appears that all they do is dive on top of the ball and then on top of each other after laying on monster hits. The root of this misconception lies in the fact that non-ball carriers can be “blocked” as a means to protect the player running with the football. Often times, big blocks are put on players without the ball which leads to the belief that any player on the field can be hit at any given time. Big hits on the ball-carrier also occasionally cause them to fumble (drop) the ball, at which point the nearest players attempt to collect it for their team by diving on it, which is why there appears to be a stacks-on mentality.

In reality, tackling is highly regulated, and there are rules as to who you can and cannot hit. You can hit the person who has the ball. Even then there are several limitations: you aren’t allowed to hit a defenseless receiver who might have his arms outstretched for a catch and can’t absorb the blow; you can’t hit someone around their head and neck region; and you can’t lead in with your helmet when attempting to tackle.

That being said, there is still contact that occurs between non-ball carrying players on the field, just not to the same extent as a tackle. For example, the offensive line features some big players, whose aim is to stop the defensive players from hitting/tackling their quarterback. In order to stop them, they have to block them away from the quarterback, and they do it by pushing them away whilst the defenders try and muscle past them.

Another example would be the defensive cornerbacks, whose aim is to stop the receivers from getting open and making catches. Often times if they are up against a really fast receiver, they will try to bump them around at the start a bit, so that they disrupt their timing and can’t just blaze past them.
While there is a level of contact that exists between offensive and defensive players at every stage, they aren’t technically classified as tackles, and so the ball-carrier is basically the only player that you can properly tackle on any given play.