Given the culture and environment of the NFL, can commissioner Goodell really expect to institute new guidelines for the enforcement "player safety legislation" in the middle of the season without artificially altering the outcome of games?
What is the culture and environment?
Football is a sport wherein heavily muscled men line up in excess of 100 times per game to run full speed and slam into each other in an all out effort administer an unapologetic bludgeoning.
Even though they know that someone will sustain serious injuries in nearly every game, they still keep playing. In a sport where the expression "bring the pain" is so much more than just a metaphor, the phrase "unnecessary roughness" seems like an oxymoron.
Ndamukong Suh was flagged for “unnecessary roughness” after pushing Jay Cutler in the back in the fourth quarter of Bears vs.Lions game on Sunday December 5th. Cutler secured the ball, made a brilliant move to get across the line of scrimmage and was headed for the first down marker when... I'm sorry, the normal, John Madden type descriptors such as wham and boom don't seem to convey the level unabashed and perfectly legal violence Suh delivered.
It was like a meteor shooting millions of miles through space, plummeting to earth at immeasurable speeds and slamming into a puppy.
In years past a hit like that would have been cause for celebration, especially on a quarterback. The blow was not to the head, Cutler was not defenseless and he was running in bounds toward the first down marker. Cutler did not slide, which is his right under the rules installed to protect quarterbacks. That means he knew the job was dangerous when he took it and was inviting the same treatment anyone who rushes the ball with abandon is likely to receive.
The Bears got a first down as a direct result of the penalty and subsequently scored the go ahead touchdown.
Suh was interviewed by Linda Cohn on ESPN's Sports Center on Tuesday December 7. He came across as intelligent, well spoken and rather shy for someone who attempted to decapitate Jake Delhomme in the preseason.
That's right, he tried to rip a guys head off in a game that didn't even count.
He said he understands why the NFL is enforcing rules to protect players, but admits that he still does not know what he did to draw a flag when he hit Cutler. "I was taught to finish a play and that's what I did," Suh said. He nearly finished Cutler in the process, but that's the game.
Referees are going to miss some calls, that's also part of the game. However, this missed call seems compounded by some other missed calls in the Steelers-Ravens game. Jameel McClain hit a defenseless Heath Miller in the head as Miller was attempting to receiving a pass from Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. There was no flag on the play. Earlier in the game Roethlisberger took a blow that rearranged his nose. There was no flag on that play either. Whether or not these plays should have garnered penalties and subsequent fines is not the relevant question.
The question is do the players and the officials actually know what should be a penalty and what should not. No one is saying that the NFL should not institute and enforce rules that attempt to provide relative safety in a game that should require the surgeon general to place a health hazard warning on the ball. However, one must question the wisdom of changing the way the game is called in the middle of the season and fining players exorbitant amounts before they get a chance to fully grasp what is legal and what is not. How are the players suppose to know when clearly the officials do not.
To make matters worse, the commissioner fined McClain 40 large for a hit that's liable to happen when your job is to violently dislodge the ball from someone running full speed and diving to make a catch. As far as I know, it is not in Andre Johnson’s job description to rip Cortland Finnegan helmet off and throw a bolo, a haymaker and an uppercut. The blows thrown by Johnson looked to be relatively unsafe for Finnegan, yet the incident only cost him 25 big ones.
At the end of the season films must be made and shown at least twice or three times to players and referees alike. Right now no one knows what page their on and it is affecting the outcome of games. If the outcome of a playoff game is adversely affected by mid-season changes made by the commissioner, not only will his tenure as commissioner be marred, but the integrity of the season could be called to question.