Why the NFL Should Put Weight Limits on Players - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Why the NFL Should Put Weight Limits on Players

Why the NFL Should Put Weight Limits on Players

By Libby Coleman


Because we treat some sports like the rules can’t be changed. 

By Libby Coleman

With biceps like pillars and a neck as thick as his head, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is pure football force. Any question about his unabashed power came to rest on Thanksgiving Day 2011, in an event forever after known as “the Stomp”: Suh jammed Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the ground — once, twice, three times — and then stomped on him.

Officially, the NFL condemns brutality — Suh was sidelined for two games because of the Stomp — but it also kind of loves it. A few years later, Suh became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. And so, the Stomp and its aftermath represent a quandary for those of us who love aggressive football but not permanent injury. Where to draw the line? As it happens, we’ve devised a simple, bright-line rule to the problem: The NFL should set a ceiling and a floor for players’ weights. We’re thinking 275 and 200 pounds, respectively, should do the trick, and, yes, punters and kickers are included. 

Of course, Suh’s weight, currently 307 pounds, was not the only reason for the Stomp. Plenty of players are in the 300-plus-pound club, including almost a quarter of the active Jets, and even if they make 173-pound wide receivers look petite in comparison, they’re not causing grievous bodily injury on a daily basis. Still, how could one not use one’s size to advantage, especially when handsomely rewarded for doing so?

These guys, God bless ’em, can injure someone in one motion by wrapping their arms around a frame and throwing it to the ground. The laws of physics almost mandate they hit harder — momentum equals mass times velocity, after all. Meanwhile, both weight and speed have increased, according to Charles Yesalis, professor of health and sport science at Penn State. Translation? The hits are coming harder than ever. 


No doubt that a weight ceiling and floor would change the game — but for the better. Football would be faster and more athletic. Bodies would do more than just slam against each other. Even a punter or quarterback could tackle a defensive back who’s running toward the end zone with a fumble. And with fewer injuries, the best players wouldn’t be sidelined so often, which is better for everyone’s fantasy football team. Oh, and it’d be better for the players themselves, says Yesalis. Not only would the hits be less injurious, but lower weights are generally healthier. “Very few lean players would be over 275 pounds,” he notes. 

True, some teams enforce weight limits on players — but only to ensure they get the most out of them. (Terrance Knighton, listed at 364 pounds, has reportedly been levied a whopping $300,000 in fines.) Our proposal goes further, taking a page from other contact sports — like mat-dancing, also known as amateur wrestling. The advantage here is obvious: With like competing against like, wrestling achieves a kind of parity that allows for more diverse kinds of excellence, says Thomas Ryan, a wrestling coach at Ohio State. In football, by contrast, there is no parity: Once the defensive linebacker breaks free of the offensive lineman, it is sayonara to the poor fool holding the football. 


Change will be tough going: The NFL didn’t respond to requests for comment, but we all know that religions don’t change with the snap of a finger. And even the smallest people can hit hard and hurt players, as Carl Francis, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, points out. Many fans say brutality is exactly what makes football compelling to watch. A sport like crew might tolerate strict weight limits, but that would namby-pambify football. “It’s almost like suggesting in basketball, you only have players between 6 feet and 6-foot-10,” Francis says.

But not really, we say. Football can be tough and safe, so long as there isn’t a 200-pound difference between players. 

Do you think it’s time for football players to watch their weight so we can watch them play? Let us know in the comments.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories