Tuesday, October 17, 2006
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The NFL does not regulate how long a player can grow his hair -- and courts since the 1970s have said that hair length is a personal choice protected by the U.S. Constitution -- but the interpretation of tackling by the hair dates to 2003.
NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira, in a videotape distributed to the teams and made available to the media, ruled that the hair flowing out of Ricky Williams' helmet was fair game to a tackler after the former Miami back was yanked down by his dreadlocks.
"You've got the hair being pulled, and the locks are like the shirt, I guess," Pereira said in the video. "If you pull the locks, it's OK. If you're going to wear your locks like that, you're the one that's at risk."
The issue remained a hot topic of conversation after Steelers safety Troy Polamalu -- in what he said was a personal first -- was hauled down by his hair during an interception return Sunday against Kansas City. Larry Johnson caught him by the hair and was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his role in a sideline skirmish after the play. The play had no bearing on the game, but it has fanned all sorts of speculation and personal opinions.
From the sports highlight shows to talk radio to YouTube.com, hair was entangled in a debate about personal safety or whether such a play may cost a team a game.
The call, however, was clear in the NFL's eyes.
"It is not a foul to tackle a player by the hair," NFL spokesman Steve Alic said. "A player's hair is considered part of the uniform."