Safety Rules in Football: Ensuring Player Well-being on the Field

John Rizzo

Safety in Football

American football is a thrilling and dynamic sport that captures the hearts of millions, both on and off the field. However, amid the excitement, the safety and well-being of the players remain paramount. 

To strike a balance between the aggressive nature of the game and the protection of its athletes, a comprehensive set of safety rules has been put in place. 

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the essential safety rules in American football, exploring why they are crucial, how they are enforced, and the impact they have on the sport as a whole.

What Is Safety in Football?

Safety in football refers to a scoring play that occurs when the offensive team is tackled or commits a foul within their own end zone (the area between their own goal line and the 10-yard line). It results in two points being awarded to the defensive team.

Here’s how safety can occur:

Tackling the Ball Carrier in Their Own end Zone

If a defensive player tackles the offensive ball carrier in their own end zone, the result is a safety. This can happen if the ball carrier is tackled or forced back into the end zone after receiving the ball.

Offensive Fouls In the End Zone

If the offensive team commits a penalty or foul within their own end zone, the result can be a safety. For example, if a holding penalty occurs in the end zone, the defensive team would be awarded a safety.

After a safety, the team that was scored upon must kick the ball to the opposing team via a free kick from their 20-yard line. The team that scored the safety also gets possession of the ball.

A safety is relatively rare compared to other scoring plays in football, such as touchdowns and field goals. It’s worth two points and can impact the momentum of the game, especially if the defensive team gains possession of the ball afterward.

Safety Rules in American Football

Safety Rules in American Football

Safety rules in American football are designed to prioritize the safety of the players and prevent serious injuries. The sport has implemented various rules and regulations to mitigate risks and ensure that the game is played as safely as possible. 

Some of the key safety rules in American football include:

Targeting Rule

This rule prohibits players from targeting an opponent’s head or neck with the crown of their helmet. It aims to prevent dangerous and potentially catastrophic head and neck injuries.

Helmet-to-Helmet Hits

Players are not allowed to initiate contact with an opponent using the crown of their helmet. This rule helps reduce the risk of head and neck injuries resulting from direct helmet-to-helmet hits.


Similar to helmet-to-helmet hits, spearing involves using the helmet as a weapon to hit an opponent. This is illegal and can lead to penalties and player ejections.

Roughing the Passer/Kicker

Rules protect quarterbacks and kickers from excessive and unnecessary hits after they release the ball or kick it. Hitting these players late or with excessive force can result in penalties.

Unnecessary Roughness

This rule prevents players from engaging in unnecessarily aggressive or dangerous actions that could harm opponents, such as late hits or blows to vulnerable areas of the body.

Defenseless Players

Players who are in a vulnerable position, such as a receiver trying to catch a pass or a player on the ground, are protected from certain types of hits. Defenders are not allowed to launch themselves at defenseless players.

Illegal Blocking and Tackling

Rules regulate blocking and tackling techniques to minimize the risk of injuries. Certain types of blocks, such as blindside blocks and low blocks, are restricted to protect players.

Concussion Protocol

American football has implemented protocols for identifying and addressing concussions. Players suspected of having a concussion are evaluated by medical staff and are not allowed to return to the game until they have been cleared.

Equipment Standards

Players are required to wear proper protective equipment, including helmets, shoulder pads, and other pads, to reduce the risk of injuries.

Fair Catch Rule

In special teams situations, a player can call for a fair catch to signal that they won’t advance the ball. This rule helps prevent injuries by allowing players to make a catch without being tackled immediately.

Injury Timeout

Players who are injured during a play can receive an injury timeout, allowing them to receive medical attention without penalizing their team. This rule ensures that injured players are promptly cared for.

These safety rules are continuously reviewed and updated by football leagues and organizations to adapt to new information and developments in player safety research. The goal is to make the sport as safe as possible for participants while maintaining its competitive and entertaining nature.

One-point Safety in Football

One-point Safety in Football

A one-point safety is an extremely rare and unusual scoring play that can occur in American football. It involves the defensive team preventing the offensive team from scoring a point after a touchdown. Here’s how a one-point safety can happen:

Extra Point Attempt

After a touchdown, the scoring team has the option to kick an extra point (worth one point) or attempt a two-point conversion (worth two points) to earn additional points.

Defensive Team’s Recovery

If the defensive team manages to block the kick or gain possession of the ball during an extra point attempt by the offensive team, they can theoretically return the ball to the opposite end zone and score a defensive one-point safety.

A one-point safety occurs when the defensive team gains possession of the ball during an extra point attempt and is subsequently tackled or goes out of bounds in their own end zone. This would result in one point being awarded to the defensive team.

It’s important to note that one-point safeties are exceedingly rare and have only occurred a handful of times in the history of American football. 

The rules governing scoring in football are complex, and this particular scenario is highly unlikely due to the timing, positioning, and execution required for such an event to occur.

Purposes of Safety Rules

Safety rules in any sport, including American football, serve several crucial purposes:

Player Protection

The primary purpose of safety rules is to protect the well-being of the athletes. By enforcing rules that prevent dangerous plays, contact with vulnerable areas, and overly aggressive behavior, the risk of serious injuries, concussions, and long-term health issues is reduced.

Injury Prevention

Safety rules are designed to minimize the likelihood of injuries during play. By regulating techniques such as tackling, blocking, and hitting, the risk of high-impact collisions and traumatic injuries is mitigated.

Fair Competition

Safety rules ensure a level playing field by discouraging unfair and dangerous tactics. When players are confident that they won’t be subjected to unnecessary risks, they can focus on their skills and strategies without worrying about their safety.

Longevity of Participation

By creating a safer environment, sports organizations encourage players to participate in their chosen sport for a longer period of time. 

This benefits both the athletes, who can enjoy a longer playing career, and the sport itself, which benefits from the continued engagement of skilled players.

Spectator Experience

Ensuring player safety contributes to a more enjoyable viewing experience for fans. Fans want to see exciting, skillful plays, not dangerous collisions that result in injuries.

Legal and Ethical Responsibilities

Sports organizations have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for their athletes. This includes following best practices for injury prevention and adhering to legal requirements related to player safety.

Public Perception and Participation

Maintaining a reputation for player safety can positively influence public perception of a sport. This can lead to increased participation rates, support from parents, and sponsorship opportunities.

Player Confidence

When athletes are confident that they are playing in a safe environment, they can focus on their performance without fear of unnecessarily hazardous situations.

Insurance and Liability

Ensuring that safety measures are in place can have positive effects on insurance costs for both players and organizations. It can also minimize the potential for legal disputes related to injuries.

Development of Skills

Safety rules promote proper techniques and strategies that enhance skill development. Players are encouraged to use sound fundamentals and avoid shortcuts that could result in dangerous plays.

Research and Innovation

Safety rules encourage research and innovation in equipment design, player training, and medical practices, leading to advancements that improve player safety over time.

Safety rules are an integral aspect of any sport, as they contribute to the health and well-being of athletes, the integrity of competition, and the overall growth and sustainability of the sport itself.

Penalties to Violate Football Safety Rules

Penalties to Violate Football Safety Rules

In American football, violating safety rules can result in a variety of penalties. Penalties are imposed to discourage dangerous play, promote fair competition, and ensure player safety.

The severity of penalties can vary depending on the nature and seriousness of the violation. Here are some penalties that can be imposed for violating safety rules in football:

Personal Foul

This is a general category of penalties that includes various unsafe and unnecessary actions that endanger players, such as late hits, hits to the head or neck area, roughing the passer, and unnecessary roughness. 

Personal foul penalties can result in a loss of yardage for the offending team.


Targeting penalties are called when a player deliberately targets an opponent’s head or neck area with the crown of their helmet or leads with the helmet to make contact. 

Targeting is a serious violation and can result in a 15-yard penalty and, in some cases, ejection from the game.

Helmet-to-Helmet Hit

A helmet-to-helmet hit occurs when a player initiates contact with an opponent using the crown of their helmet. This can lead to a personal foul penalty.


Spearing involves using the helmet as a weapon to hit an opponent. It can lead to a personal foul penalty and potentially ejection from the game.

Roughing the Passer/Kicker

Hitting the quarterback or kicker after they’ve released the ball or kicked it can result in a roughing penalty. These penalties are designed to protect vulnerable players and ensure their safety.

Face Mask

Grabbing an opponent’s face mask is illegal and can lead to a 15-yard penalty. The severity of the penalty can vary depending on whether the grab is deemed incidental or deliberate.

Unnecessary Roughness

Engaging in excessively aggressive or dangerous actions that could harm opponents can result in an unnecessary roughness penalty.

Late Hit

Tackling or hitting an opponent after the play is over or after the ball has been released can lead to a late-hit penalty.

Defensive Pass Interference

While not exclusively a safety rule, defensive pass interference can occur if a defensive player interferes with a receiver’s ability to catch a pass. This rule is in place to prevent collisions that could result in injuries.

Illegal Blocking Techniques

Blocking below the waist or in the back, particularly on defenseless players, can result in penalties. These rules help prevent injuries to players who might not be expecting such hits.


In some cases of severe violations, players can be ejected from the game. This is often the case for targeting penalties, which are considered particularly dangerous plays.

It’s important to note that penalties can vary based on the specific rules of the football league being played. The severity of the penalty and the circumstances surrounding the violation can determine the yardage awarded or lost, as well as the potential for player ejection.


Why are safety rules necessary in American football?

Safety rules are a response to the physical nature of American football, designed to reduce the risk of injuries and protect players from dangerous plays. 

By promoting safe techniques and behaviors, these rules ensure that the game remains competitive without compromising player well-being.

What types of actions do safety rules address?

Safety rules cover a wide range of actions, including late hits, targeting opponents’ heads or necks, helmet-to-helmet hits, roughing the passer or kicker, and unnecessary roughness. They aim to prevent dangerous tactics that could result in serious injuries to players.

How are safety rules enforced during games?

Referees and officials closely monitor the game to ensure that players adhere to safety rules. 

When a violation occurs, penalties are imposed. Depending on the severity of the infraction, penalties can result in the loss or gain of yardage for the teams involved. Severe violations may also lead to player ejections.

What impact do safety rules have on player development?

Safety rules encourage proper techniques and skill development among players. By focusing on safe and fundamental practices, athletes can hone their skills while minimizing the risk of injuries. This emphasis on safety also extends to training and conditioning programs.

How do safety rules contribute to the future of American football?

Safety rules play a pivotal role in shaping the future of American football. By creating a safer environment, these rules attract new players, retain existing talent, and gain the support of parents, sponsors, and fans. This support, in turn, ensures the longevity and growth of the sport.

Wrapping Up

In American football, safety rules are not just a set of regulations; they represent a commitment to the well-being of the athletes who make the game possible. 

These rules strike a delicate balance between maintaining the excitement and intensity of the sport while safeguarding players from unnecessary risks. 

As the sport continues to evolve, safety rules will remain at the forefront, ensuring that American football remains a thrilling, competitive, and, most importantly, safe endeavor for all involved.

Thank you for staying with us.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn