Memo to NFL: Protect the gunner on the field; don’t regulate the sideline

December 19th, 2010 - 11:46 am

It’s fortunate that the Bears play on Monday night this week because something else is weighing heavily on my mind today. While watching FOX NFL Sunday, host Curt Menefee made a particularly big deal about what Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi did on the sideline during the Miami Dolphins game on Dec. 12.

The irony of the situation is that Menefee made a bigger deal about Alosi having his players form a wall on the sideline than he did about Alosi actually tripping Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll.

Let me be clear about this: Alosi extending his knee to trip Carroll was wrong. Having his players stand side by side, foot to foot was brilliant.

There is nothing illegal or unethical about minding your own business and standing within the legal boundary on the sideline. If they wanted to hold hands or link arms, it’d be a little strange but perfectly legal and ethical.

The intent to injure is unethical; the intent to make it difficult for a player who runs out of bounds to get back on the field and down the field to make a play is not unethical.

I agree with FOX’s Jimmy Johnson who said there was nothing wrong with forming a wall because the players are standing in legal boundaries.

The NFL, as is their way in trying to enforce player safety, has made a new rule that the only people allowed within the first “box” just past the sideline are coaches and players that are about to enter the game.

First of all, teams can easily manipulate this new rule regarding “players about to enter the game.” Secondly, there is no logistical way to monitor and regulate what goes on on the sideline during a game. There are far too many bodies and a lot of them aren’t even paying attention to the game.

The NFL is right to keep in mind the safety of the gunner, but they have it backwards. The gunner, for the laymen out there, is a player on either side of the field on punt returns who is split out wide near the sideline and his job is to sprint down the field and get to the returner as quickly as possible.

The issue is that the gunner goes out of bounds far too often. Sometimes it’s because of his own volition but most of the time it’s because he’s forced out of bounds by two defenders. Instead of the NFL trying to regulate something impossible on the sideline, why not make it illegal to have two defenders blocking the gunner?

It seems like a perfectly logical rule change. The NFL outlawed three-man wedges on kick returns just this past year because of the violent collisions they caused. Has anybody seen the vicious beating that gunners take unless they run out of bounds or tight rope down the sideline? If gunners try to take an inside track, they get abused. By allowing two players to block the gunner, the NFL is encouraging players to run on the sideline.

Simply put, I am all for teams making it more difficult for gunners to get back on the field. It’s often the gunners’ fault for leaving the field in the first place. And when it’s not their fault, it’s because they face an improbable task of defeating a double team to get down the field.

Change the blocking rule, NFL. Leave alone what happens on the sideline.