York: New rule will 'add another element of safety'

York: New rule will 'add another element of safety'
May 20, 2013, 5:30 pm
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49ers co-chair Dr. John York is currently at the NFL owners meetings in Boston. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

BOSTON -- Dr. John York, co-chair of the 49ers, traveled to the NFL owners meetings for the vote to determine the sites for Super Bowls 50 and 51.

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As the chairman of the NFL's health and safety committee, he will also provide an update Tuesday on injury statistics from last season. York said he is pleased with the direction the league has gone to make football more safe for the players, especially in the areas of dealing with concussions and concussion prevention.

In March, NFL owners passed a rule that bans the ballcarrier -- or defender -- from initiating contact with the crown of the helmet in the open field. York said he voted in favor of the rule change with the blessings of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke.

"They wanted information in the beginning," York said. "As they listened and talked to some people back at the league office and referees, they became supportive."

The rule change passed by a margin of 31-1 in March, with only the Cincinnati Bengals voting against the measure. York said he hopes the rule does not have much of an impact on the game. An infraction will result in a 15-yard penalty.

"If the players are prepared and coached with this emphasis and the referees are taking this both seriously and not trying to over-officiate this, then I believe it will be a good rule change and keep the game the way we expect it to be for both the teams and the fans," York said. "It will add another element of safety to the game."

The rule change was initially met with some public opposition. Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith said it's a form of self-defense for a running back to lower his head at the point of contact.

"Roger Goodell has emphasized since the day he became commissioner that helmet safety is priority No. 1," York said. "One of the things we discussed was to take the head out of the game. I don't think five years ago people could have necessarily imagined how taking the head out of the game would be interpreted.

"But leading with the head is oftentimes hitting another head. And that can be changed to the shoulder and sliding off. This does not have to be a play that is in the game."