ECONOMIC REGULATION AND HELMET HITS. I posted three years ago that I thought helmet-to-helmet hits were dangerous, but when I posted a couple weeks ago about the NFL’s newly announced policy on helmet-to-helmet hits, I was taking a narrow lawyer’s view of the enforcement of the rules. The NFL is more worried now about concussions than it had been, and has said that it intends to stop them. I questioned how serious the NFL is. The rule is sporadically enforced, perhaps because the there is still a lot of opposition to the new policy. As well, the penalties for an illegal hit remain inadequate. A hit that knocks a key player out of the game may win the game, and a fine imposed a week after the game seems unimportant and is not taken seriously by the players. John Kay had an article in the Financial Times (November 3) about the problems of regulatory capture—the process by which regulators come to look at issues from the point of view of those they should be regulating. He began with a quotation from the President of a major railroad in 1887 just before the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act, which regulated railroads.
The railroad president wrote: “What is desired is something having a good sound, but quite harmless, which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done, when, in reality, very little is intended to be done.”
So what the NFL seems to be doing is an old strategy.