Spearing in football is a tackling technique in which a player puts their arms by their sides and launches their body like a spear initiating contact with their helmet. Spearing is an incredibly dangerous tackling technique and carries a great risk of injury.
There is not a specific rule in the NFL regarding spearing but this type of tackle fits under the uneccessary roughness umbrella.
An unnecessary roughness penalty in the NFL carries a loss of fifteen yards, it can also result in an ejection from the game if it is determined to be flagrant.
If an unnecessary roughness penalty is committed by the defense it results in an automatic first down.
Spearing in football is considered an unnecessary roughness penalty due to its use of the helmet to contact another player. Players are not meant to use their helmets as a tool to bring down their opponents.
The rule book states “using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent” is going to result in an unnecessary roughness penalty against the offending player.
Both players on the offense and defense can get a penalty for this action.
Spearing and injuries in football
Spearing was banned in high school and the NFL in 1976 due to the number of spinal cord injuries that were occurring in players.
The issue with this form of tackling is that it puts a ton of pressure on the spinal cord. When players spear tackle they are putting their body in a straight line, when contact is made with the helmet all the impact of the contact will come down onto the spine.
This is dangerous for the player being tackled but more so for the player doing the tackling.
This was proven after 1976 when looking at the number of injuries in high school and NFL football after the rule change was implemented.
Once spearing was banned the number of players that became quadriplegic dropped from 10.6 per 100,000 to 2.24 per 100,000.
This goes to show how dangerous this tackle was and how prevalent this form of tackling now.
How tackling changed
In order to avoid spear tackles, football had to come up with a safer and more effective way to bring down ball carriers.
Coaches began to teach how to tackle with your head up. This way a player can hit the opponent with their chest or shoulders and avoid putting the pressure of the contact on a player’s spine.
A heads up style of tackling is much safer for the body as the key areas of contact are able to withstand the physicality of tackling.
Players are now encouraged to wrap up opponents with their arms as well. The spear tackling technique had players put their arms at their sides and launched themselves into their opponents.
This wrapping-up technique makes tackling more effective and safer.
All levels of football still struggle with helmet-to-helmet contact from time to time but the issue is significantly better now that spear tackling is illegal.