Tackling by hair is fair, says head of CFL officiating
Fair warning to CFL players: Long, flowing hair might look great and be the latest rage but it's fair game on the football field.
Tom Higgins, the CFL's director of officiating, said Monday long hair is deemed a part of a player's equipment and can be used in the making of a tackle. The issue came to light Sunday when Montreal kick-returner Trent Guy was twice pulled down by his long dreadlocks in the Alouettes' 31-10 nationally televised home win over the Toronto Argonauts.
Toronto's Mike Bradwell grabbed rookie Guy's hair in the second quarter during a punt return. A flag was thrown but the penalty was quickly overturned.
"It's part of the uniform," Higgins said. "It's like tackling a guy by the arm.
"It's a part of him so you're allowed to use it to make a tackle."
Guy, who returned a missed field goal a club-record 129 yards for a touchdown in the contest, said this wasn't the first time he had been pulled down by the hair.
"I've been tackled by my hair a number of times," the former Louisville standout said with a chuckle. "I'm kind of used to it now."
Surprisingly, Guy has never considered getting his hair cut.
"No, not at all," he said. "My hair has been pretty long since college and is just something I have to deal with.
"I have to think of some ways where I don't give them as much of a surface to grab my hair. I pinned it back in the second half [versus Toronto] so I didn't have as much problems with it."
Part of the uniform
The NFL also considers hair that falls past a player's helmet as part of the uniform and therefore can be used to make a tackle.
And Higgins, for one, doesn't expect the CFL's board of governors to rush this off-season to discuss changing its rules to ban such a practice.
"No, because it actually has been discussed for many, many years coming," he said.
While grabbing a player's hair is legal, doing so intentionally isn't regarded as an accepted practice in football. But Higgins said because the pro game is so fast, players are often left grasping for whatever they can get their hands on in order to slow down and/or stop an opponent.
"That's why you do see facemask penalties and horse-collar penalties because it happens so fast," he said. "A tackle is meant to be hit with your shoulders where you wrap up but that's not always the case.
"So you reach and go with one hand and grab whatever is available."
That's a big reason why pro players now wear tight, form-fitting uniforms — to give opponents less to grab. And that's why, in Higgins' opinion, players should consider whether long hair gives opponents an advantage.
"There's not one football player who would go on to the football field with a ill-fitted jersey," Higgins said. "Why guys have it [long hair] that are going to carry the football, I don't know.
"Yes, it's a style and personal preference but I think it hurts the team when you give somebody an additional advantage."
The incident Sunday marked the first time a CFL player had been recorded grabbing another's hair to make a tackle. But it's an issue that's been front and centre in the NFL since 2003 when the league declared a player could be tackled by his hair.
It was affectionately dubbed the "Ricky Rule" after former Toronto Argonaut Ricky Williams, who sported long dreadlocks throughout most of his pro football career.
But more and more CFL players are sporting long hair and dreadlocks that hang out the back of their helmets. Some hair hangs so far it covers the name on the back of uniforms and the top of jersey numbers.
However, it's not something new in the CFL. Defensive lineman Jed Roberts, who spent 13 seasons with Edmonton (1990-'02) often kept his hair long to honour his Native heritage.
Higgins, who served as the Eskimos head coach from 2001 to '04, said Roberts' hair length was never an issue.
"He always had it braided and tucked in back and was well kept," Higgins said.
A bigger concern for Higgins, though, is whether players with big hair are receiving maximum protection from their helmets.
"I personally, as a coach, would feel a responsibility to make sure every player on the team has the best well-fitted equipment money can buy," he said. "I think we're putting our guys a little bit at risk because I don't believe the helmets fit properly."
There were many incidents last year of CFL players losing their helmets on the field of play. In the off-season, the league changed its rules to have plays where ballcarriers are separated from their helmets blown dead immediately and defensive players losing their headgear being unable to participate in a play.
If they do, their team receives a 10-yard penalty. Also, if a player hits an opponent not wearing a helmet, his team is slapped with a 15-yard penalty.
"The number of helmets coming off [this season] has been drastically reduced," Higgins said. "But we had to put a rule into place.
"The question is can a helmet be fitted properly with big hair? There are skilled workers that are not allowed to have loose-flowing hair, in the food industry, machinery. But we have no restrictions right now. It's personal preference."