As the NFL tries to muster support for its new approach to hits with the helmet and/or to the helmet against defenseless players, the league office is starting at the top of each organization.
Next week, when owners gather in Dallas for their quarterly meeting, they’ll see a video of clean hits made since a rash of big hits on October 17 prompted the league to take action.
Executive V.P. of football operations Ray Anderson told the Associated Press that the video “clearly shows players making adjustment” in their hitting technique, which means that they have “gotten the message.”
“Frankly, some players who previously have been fined or disciplined have made the adjustments we are looking for to play within the rules,” Anderson told the AP. “It is hard to declare any trends this soon; it’s premature to do that. But certainly what we are seeing, not just us in this office, but officials and coaches have reported they see players making appropriate adjustments. And particularly where in prior instances there may have been a little more hitting, perhaps some gratuitous shots being meted out, players now refrain.”
Anderson suggested that, even though no player has been suspended yet, suspensions won’t only be used for first-time offenders. One sufficiently troubling illegal hit could get a player suspended.
“Everyone doesn’t get a free pass, no matter how egregious a hit might be the first time,” Anderson said. “We don’t want anyone thinking that this is my one time to make such a hit, and I can stay on the field. They should not be operating under that false assumption.”
Anderson also addressed a common refrain among fans of certain teams being targeted, a notion that has been fueled by the decision of folks like Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Steelers president Art Rooney, and most recently Ravens coach John Harbaugh to publicly question fines imposed on their players.
“We don’t put any credence into that and would dispute that unequivocally,” Anderson said. “I have been hearing that since the first time I understood what competitive football was, and any of us who follows football has been hearing that for decades.
“The integrity of the game is first and foremost. Under this Commissioner and leadership of this office, that is not something we would tolerate or condone. If we ever believed any of that was going on, we would come down with a vengeance.”
We think that the league likewise should be prepared to “come down with a vengeance” on those with positions of leadership and authority at the various franchises who are perpetuating, subtly or otherwise, the notion that, to some degree or another, the fix is in. We prefer to think that the NFL is merely trying to navigate on the fly some fairly choppy waters; fiercely partisan fans who hear their head coach or owner say things that imply deliberate favoritism or bias will not be so understanding, and the league will suffer for it.