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Ryan Clark: New NFL rule might eliminate 'tough guy'

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- When the NFL Competition Committee passed the crown-of-helmet rule by a nearly unanimous vote last week, it became just the latest effort to improve player safety in an inherently violent game.

Despite those efforts, the NFL continues to find itself at odds with current and former players who believe new rules designed to protect players ultimately hurt the sport they grew up with.

We got a taste of that disappointment while watching Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk, free-agent safety Ronde Barber and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark participate in a roundtable discussion that aired Monday during NFL Network's "Health of the Game: NFL Evolution Special Report."

The four players universally were dubious about both the defenseless receiver rule and the crown-of-helmet rule.

"The crown-of-the-helmet rule was, 'Let's find something to put the onus on player safety for the offensive guys,' " said Faulk, who has been outspoken in his disdain for the rule, which passed by a 31-1 vote last week.

"We're going to eliminate the tough guy from football," Clark added. "When Deion goes to (the) combine in a couple years, Marshall goes to the combine and they're looking at guys, you're actually going to be able to say, in shorts, that this guy is going to be a good player. Because it's not gonna matter what he does in pads, because pads aren't going to matter.

"These guys aren't going to have to be tough."

Faulk believes it would help if an open dialogue between the league and players existed.

"Why aren't we, as current players or former players, on the Competition Committee if it's about making the league better?" Faulk asked. "Don't you want input from the players?"

There's no easy answer for the NFL on player safety issues. The league is criticized by former and current players for taking the tough guy out of football while also facing a concussion lawsuit from former players who claim the league didn't do enough to protect and care for them.

If there's a common ground out there, it hasn't been found yet.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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