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Ten ways to improve the Hall of Fame selection process


Every year, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, 44 men and women gather in the host city and determine the members of the next class of Hall of Famers.

Typically, the panel considers 15 modern-era candidates, which systemically is whittled down to five finalists for an up-or-down vote.  The voters also consider two previously-determined finalists determined by the Seniors Committee, which comes up with two players who, for whatever reason, were passed over during past sessions.

In the end, as few as four and as many as seven secure admission to Canton.

Every year, complaints inevitably arise regarding the persons who make it and those who don’t.  At times, those complaints are aimed at the process.  Usually, the debate fizzles by the next day, when the Super Bowl starts.

This year, largely through the efforts of Jason Whitlock of, the criticism has lingered.  The fact that Whitlock’s opinions have sparked a pointed response from two of the voters has served only to give the discussion ongoing life.

Though some of the voters who perhaps feel a threat to their fiefdom may not like it, any effort to consider whether the process can be improved represents a valuable expenditure of time and effort.  In this vein, we now offer 10 specific ideas for improving the procedure for determining who gets in, and who’s left out of, the Hall of Fame.

1.  Expand the panel.

The panel currently consists only of media members, some of whom are unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.  One voter is assigned for each team, even if the voter has no specific jurisdiction over that team.  For example, Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange holds the vote that corresponds to the Falcons, even though he hasn’t focused his efforts on that team for years.  Ditto for David Elfin, the Redskins’ representative who no longer works for a Washington-focused publication.  Others, like Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had limited experience covering the NFL but was the only guy at the only paper in the town in which the team is headquartered.

That’s not a knock on Joe, whom we know and like.  But, surely, he’ll acknowledge that he had limited experience covering the NFL when he got the assignment.  Before inheriting the Bengals beat from Mark Curnutte in 2009, Reedy previously covered the Jets for two years (1997 and 1998) at the Post-Star in Glen Falls, New York and the Jaguars for one year (1999) at the Gainesville Sun.  Many would contend that three relatively distant years at non-first-tier publications shouldn’t be enough to secure 2.27 percent of the say as to who makes it to Canton.

The panel also includes one representative of the Professional Football Writers Association and 11 at-large media members.  That’s 44 total voters.

The panel, put simply, is too small.  (And, trust me, I’m not saying that because I’m angling for a seat at the table.  I don’t want one, I don’t expect to ever be offered one — especially after writing this article — and I wouldn’t have the time to do the assignment justice unless and until I become unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.)  Because the human beings who comprise the panel are subject to the same human factors that influence us consciously or otherwise, one way to neutralize those realities is to involve more voters.

As explained below, that doesn’t mean more media members.  To enjoy the full faith and confidence of football fans, the process needs more voices, more perspectives, and less power in the hands of any one voter.

Many of the persons who hold these votes take great pride in the assignment.  As a result, they naturally will be inclined to resist any changes that will make the achievement less significant, such as adding significantly more people to the process.

Regardless, significantly more people need to be added to the process.

2.  Overhaul the Board of Trustees.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is governed by a Board of Trustees.  Some of the names are instantly recognizable, like Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  (One name is recognizable but curiously out of place. ESPN’s Todd Blackledge, whose bailiwick is college football, has a seat on the Board of Trustees.)

There is also a cluster of persons with no connection to the NFL, but who hold positions of prominence in and around Canton, Ohio, the geographic location of the Hall of Fame.

With all due respect to those Canton-area businesspeople, it makes no sense for the policies and procedures of the Hall of Fame to be set by folks whose biggest contribution to the process is the ability to show up for meetings without incurring travel expenses.  Though it makes sense for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to seek the support and involvement of the Canton business community, the Board of Trustees should be composed of folks who have a direct role in the game and who have the best interests of the game at all times in mind.

To the extent that there are some Canton-area businesspeople who have a direct role in the game, such as Packers great and successful Akron businessman Dave Robinson, they should have a seat at the table.  We also realize that some members of the Board of Trustees are instrumental in organizing the events that surround each year’s enshrinement ceremony.  But most of the persons who are setting policy for the Hall of Fame should have names that ardent fans and followers of the sport instantly recognize.

Currently, it’s roughly a 50-50 split.  That needs to change.

3.  Change the bylaws.

The Board of Trustees ultimately determine the contents of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws.  All too often, members of the panel who are faced with criticism of the selection process instantly explain that their hands are tied by the bylaws.

So change the bylaws.

Every year, the NFL changes multiple rules in the hopes of making the game better.  In the past half-decade, the only meaningful change to the bylaws occurred when the modern-era finalists were increased from 13 to 15.

The bylaws shouldn’t be used as a shield for avoiding change, but as a sword for implementing it.  All too often, the bylaws become an excuse for the status quo, not the impetus for improvement.  For that reason alone, the powers-that-be need to be willing and able on an annual basis (or more often) to look for ways to improve the rules that govern the selection process.

4.  Include Hall of Famers.

Every year, the winner of the Heisman Trophy acquires the ability to vote on all future winners of the award.  The logic is simple, and undeniable.  Winning the Heisman represents membership in an exclusive club, and the men who have won it should have a say in who gets it.

The argument applies even more strongly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden believes that the busts talk to each other at night.  If they do, the first comment when a new crop joins them shouldn’t be, “Who in the hell let that guy in?”

They say it takes one to know one, and a Hall of Famer is in the best position to know another Hall of Famer.  Though giving Hall of Famers votes would introduce the possibility of biases and prejudices, those factors surely apply from time to time (or, as the case may be, every year) to the 44 men and women who currently have the keys to Canton, especially when players who earn a reputation for being hard on the media seem to have a hard time getting into the Hall of Fame.

The only requirement?  To vote, the Hall of Famer must attend the meeting.  No proxies or absentee ballots.  If they show up, they get a say in the process.

5.  Include coaches and other established football minds.

In responding to Jason Whitlock’s column calling for change, Bob Gretz argued that “Rick Gosselin has forgotten more football in a week than Whitlock has known in his life.”  That same observation likely applies to many of the folks currently on the selection committee.

And that observation probably would apply to all of them if, say, guys like Joe Gibbs or Ron Wolf or Bill Parcells or Chuck Noll were in the room.

So why not give people who have devoted their careers to coaching football and/or running football teams a direct say in who should and shouldn’t land in the Hall of Fame?  For those not already in the Hall of Fame, they’d have to forfeit their own eligibility for the Hall until two years after leaving the committee.

Frankly, those folks are far better suited to picking the new members of the Hall of Fame than pretty much everyone on the selection committee as its currently constituted.

6.  Categorize the candidates.

Every year, the finalists are thrown into a vat regardless of the position they played, with the new members of the Hall emerging from a stew that can’t distinguish between pancake blocks and pick-sixes.  It would make more sense to allow one new member per year from each of the various positions on the field:  quarterback, running back, receiver/tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and coach/G.M./contributor.

The finalists would be determined by position, with the list of candidates trimmed to three-to-five before the selection meeting, and with no requirement that a person be admitted from each position group.

This would expand the potential maximum size of the class from seven to eight, but the high-water mark of seven per year has been in place since 1964, the year after the charter class was inducted.  At the time, the NFL and AFL had only 22 teams.

Today, the NFL has 32 franchises, as a result of the addition of two in 1966, one in 1967, one in 1968, two in 1976, two in 1995, one in 1999, and one in 2002.  Moving the maximum annual class from seven to eight in light of the growth of the league isn’t simply justified, it’s overdue.

7.  Scuttle the Senior Committee.

The Senior Committee serves the purpose of allowing the selection committee to revisit two players from past seasons who fell through the cracks.  In other words, it gives the selection committee to right past wrongs.  By improving the selection process, there would be no reason to clean up past messes by devoting two of seven annual spots to guys who failed to get in when competing directly with their peers.

In his response to Jason Whitlock’s criticisms, Bob Gretz unwittingly proved our point.

Gretz explained that, ever year, a pair of Hall of Famers join the Seniors Committee to assist in the process of whittling down the previously overlooked players to two finalists, who seem to almost always get in.  For the 2011 class, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham and Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders worked with the Seniors Committee.

Ham, per Gretz, made a strong case for linebacker Chris Hanburger.

“Ham told the group that when he went to the Steelers in the 1971 NFL Draft out of Penn State, the Pittsburgh coaches gave him film of Hanburger to study,” Gretz writes.  “There was no doubt in Ham’s mind that Hanburger was a legitimate candidate.  Whose word are your going to take on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or Jason Whitlock?”

Gretz essentially is admitting that the selection committee screwed up by not putting Hanburger in the Hall years earlier.  With the involvement on the selection committee of guys like Hall of Famer Jack Ham convinced that Hanburger should get in, that wouldn’t have happened.

In other words, if Ham and the other Hall of Famers had a seat at the table, perhaps Hanburger wouldn’t have been erroneously passed over.

After all, whose word should the Hall of Fame been taking on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or any member of the media?

8.  Embrace transparency.

Though many voters seek refuge in the bylaws and regard them as if they’d been etched onto stone tablets by the hand of God, many also will acknowledge the validity of Whitlock’s complaint that the process unfolds in secrecy.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, who has nothing but the best interests of the process in mind (and I say that not because he’s a friend and a colleague but because I’ve spent enough time around him to know that’s who he is and how he operates), would welcome transparency.

I’d be fine with our votes being made public, which the Hall currently doesn’t want us to do,” King wrote in his February 7 Monday Morning Quarterback column.  “The feeling from Hall officials is if our votes are published, then some voters might vote differently; if a voter from Buffalo, for instance, didn’t vote for Andre Reed (and this is only an example, not the truth), he might face a backlash when he goes back to cover his team. Or in some small way it might affect his vote if he or she knew everyone would know exactly how the vote went. I believe it’s incumbent on us to not hide behind the privacy of the room. The Hall is a huge deal, obviously, with burgeoning interest every year. If we’re going to sit on the committee and sit in judgment of these men for enshrinement, I think you ought to know how we vote.”

If one of the most respected members of the NFL media believes that the process should be more transparent, then it’s fair to say that the process should be more transparent.  With an expanded panel of voters, anyone who covers the team on which a player played most or all of his career could abstain from voting, thereby addressing the biggest concern that King raised.

9.  Involve the NFL.

As mentioned above, the Commissioner and various owners occupy seats on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.  But the NFL should be even more involved than that.

Though it’s called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s essentially the NFL Hall of Fame, and the NFL should be in position to propose changes to bylaws and initiate procedural enhancements aimed at improving the process of determining each class of enshrinees.

One change the NFL would likely make relates to the consideration of off-field conduct.  Currently forbidden by the bylaws, the reality is that plenty of voters consider the things a candidate did when not playing football, especially in close cases.  The bylaws, then, should change to reflect the reality of the process.

If the NFL is the perpetual custodian of the highest levels of the sport, the NFL should have much greater involvement in and dominion over the museum that celebrates those who made the biggest impact on the game.

10.  Commit to continuous improvement and change.

Most of the criticisms of the current selection process arise from a perception that the system is stale and stagnant, in large part because change doesn’t happen often and doesn’t seem welcome.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly explains that the league constantly must look for ways to enhance and improve the game.  That same attitude must infect, and overtake, the Hall of Fame.

So many things about the selection process need to be changed because so little change has happened in the 48 years since the Hall of Fame opened.  Egos and agendas and pride and any other factor that stands in the way of change needs to be set aside, and folks need to look for ways to make the process better, and ultimately more fair.

We’re not advocating change for the sake of change.  But in this case there has been little or no change.  Changes need to be made, and then the Hall of Fame needs to be willing to consider future change without external calls for it.

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Rashad Jennings: “No doubt” I’ll make a G.M. right this year

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 18: Haloti Ngata #92 of the Detroit Lions attempts to tackle Rashad Jennings #23 of the New York Giants in the first half at MetLife Stadium on December 18, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants moved on from running back Rashad Jennings earlier this month in a move that saves them $2.5 million in salary cap space and leaves Jennings in search of a new home for the 2017 season.

Jennings’ work last season will create some doubt about how much he has to offer another team. Jennings gained 3.3 yards per carry last year and lost time to rookie Paul Perkins over the course of the season, developments that join his upcoming 32nd birthday as reasons to doubt that big things are in his future.

During an appearance on NFL Network, Jennings said that such doubts have given him a “chip on my shoulder” and haven’t dimmed his confidence that he can contribute to a team in 2017.

“But where I’m at right now, I’m excited, you know? Free agent, you know, healthy,” Jennings said. “I’m down in Florida already training, trying to get ready for a team to call me. I always say my job every single year is to make one G.M. right and that’s no doubt what I’ll be doing this upcoming season.”

Given the committee role he’s almost certain to play, Jennings may have to wait for other pieces to settle around the league before he finds the G.M. that thinks he’s the right fit for their backfield plans.

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Video shows Joey Porter grabbing wrists of police officer

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 23:  Linebacker Joey Porter #55 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after making a play for a loss against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2005 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter avoided felony charges last month when the local prosecutor decided that the evidence didn’t support a conclusion that Porter “attempt[ed] by physical menace to put [a police officer] while in the performance of duty, in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”

With the entire case now resolved via a glorified parking ticket (i.e., a $300 citation), the video of Porter’s altercation outside of a Pittsburgh club has emerged. Posted at Deadspin, the video shows Porter arguing with a man who was keeping Porter out of the club. The officer eventually arrives, asking aloud what’s going on (and gesturing in a way that reminded me of Joe Pesci), generally being ignored, and finally intervening when Porter grabs the man blocking the door and pulls him away from it.

At that point, the officer gets in front of Porter and pushes him away, into the side of a nearby parked car. The officer tries to restrain Porter by putting a hand in his chest. Porter plainly can be seen — at least three times — grabbing the officer by a wrist and pulling his hand away.

Clearly and indisputably, Porter put his hands on a police officer, multiple times. When Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala dropped the aggravated assault charge, he declined to release the video, claiming that it was still evidence as to the remaining charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.

“Joey, I think, enjoys and revels in the reputation he had as a hard-nosed player, but he really took it hard about the notion that he was violent, disrespectful of law enforcement, excessively drunk, those kinds of things, because the charges suggested those,” Porter’s attorney, Robert DelGreco Jr., said at the time, via

The president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1 suggested that something fishy was going on.

“I find it incredible that charges were reduced prior to a preliminary hearing taking place,” Bob Swartzwelder said. “I hope every other criminal defendant is given such expedient treatment, or is there something more to this case? If an individual put his hand on a police officer, the charges should stand.”

The Pittsburgh Police Citizen Review Board later concluded that Porter grabbed the officer by the wrists, rendering him defenseless. While defenselessness is a subjective assessment, it’s not an unreasonable conclusion given the size difference and the reality that Porter’s conduct easily could be regarded as “physical menace” that put the officer “in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”

Putting his hands on the officer — something no one should ever do unless being beaten or otherwise brutalized — crosses a line that arguably should have prompted the prosecutor to allow an impartial jury to decide whether Porter ran afoul of a law that essentially prohibits people who find themselves in the middle of a hostile disagreement treating a police officer like anyone else who happens to find himself in the middle of the scrum. The fact that Porter didn’t stand trial invites speculation that he received the benefit of the doubt that comes from playing for (and now coaching) the locally-beloved NFL team.

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Jason Peters will stay in Philly, not taking a pay cut

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 8:  Jason Peters #71 of the Philadelphia Eagles warms up prior to a preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on August 8, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by John Konstantaras/Getty Images) Getty Images

Despite a report this month that the Eagles asked left tackle Jason Peters to take a pay cut, he’ll be sticking around on his current contract.

The Eagles have decided to bring Peters back without a pay cut, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. Peters’ base salary will be $10.45 million and he can also earn a workout bonus of $250,000.

That’s a lot of money, but with the Eagles trying to develop a young quarterback in Carson Wentz, saving money by trying to find a left tackle on the cheap would be foolish. If the Eagles did ask Peters to take a pay cut, he and his agent presumably informed them that he wouldn’t do so, and the team presumably decided that it couldn’t lose Peters and risk not having a good left tackle to protect Wentz.

The 35-year-old Peters, who started all 16 games last year, is under contract with the Eagles through 2018.

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College coach says Mitch Trubisky will measure up to NFL scrutiny

CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 24:  Head coach Larry Fedora of the North Carolina Tar Heels congratulates Mitch Trubisky #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels after defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers 37-36 at Kenan Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

You can tell we’re getting close to the NFL Scouting Combine, that magical time of year when football-starved men obsess over fractions of inches.

(Write your own punchline, funny guy.)

So after NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock suggested that North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky might only measure 6-foot-1-something, UNC coach Larry Fedora said he didn’t think that was the case.

For what it’s worth, Trubisky is listed as 6-3 in the Tar Heels media guide, such that a number inscribed by the PR staff in Chapel Hill matters.

“I think it’s funny,” Fedora told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I love this time of the year watching how they just tear every kid apart.

“I promise you Mitch will be tall enough. I’ve never said Mitch was 6-3, so I don’t know where any of that came from, but he’s going to measure probably 6-2 or a little bit taller than that. I don’t know exactly because I’ve never put a tape on him, but he’s going to be tall enough to be successful, I promise you.”

Fedora said he’d be “really shocked” if Trubisky was only “a little over 6-1” as Mayock said he’s been told by scouts, and reiterated that his quarterback’s height wasn’t an issue.

“At this time of year it’s always about tearing kids down. I think Mitch understands that. He’s very confident in what he can do, and I’m sure he’s going to throw at the Combine and then I’m going to make a bet that he’s going to throw at our pro day (March 21) too. I don’t think he’s going to be scared to hide anything.”

While only a measuring tape in Indianapolis will tell the official truth —unless Trubisky has lifts in his socks (#alternativeheight) — this will hopefully put this mini-controversy to bed.

Now we can worry about the only real measurement that matters for quarterbacks — How big are his hands?

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Aaron Rodgers dubs his official Combine 40-yard dash as “fake news”

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

A more-humorous-than-interesting kerfuffle has emerged on Twitter involving Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and, for a change, not me.

The NFL tweeted a photo of Rodgers running a 4.71-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in 2005. Rodgers responded by pointing out that it was a 4.66, followed by the #fakenews hash tag.

The number that comes up when Googling and/or YouTubing the issue consistently is 4.71 seconds, however. It seems that the official results do indeed reflect 4.71 seconds for Rodgers.

While it seems that Rodgers is joking, they say that every joke has a kernel of truth. It would surprise no one that the so-sensitive-he’s-sensitive-about-being-called-sensitive quarterback would quibble with something so trivial, if he truly believes he ran the 40 a whopping 0.05 seconds faster than the NFL says he did.

Ultimately, none of it matters. He has become one of the best quarterbacks in league history, and 12 years later he still has enough gas in the tank to run a 4.71. Or a 4.66.

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Anthony Lynn: Having two former head coaches on staff will help

Los Angeles Chargers special team coordinator George Stewart, from left, head coach Anthony Lynn, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt pose for photos after a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) AP

In-season firings of head coaches don’t happen all that often in the NFL, although you might not know that from looking at the Chargers coaching staff.

Head Coach Anthony Lynn got bumped up to interim head coach in Buffalo last year after Rex Ryan was fired while offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley both lost head coaching jobs in recent years before a season was over. Given those experiences and the coordinators’ resumes, some might wonder if Lynn has set up his staff with people ready to replace him should things take a wrong turn in Los Angeles.

Lynn said Wednesday that he’s had people ask him about that, but that he’s not bothered because “those guys have my back” and believes the value they add will keep him from finding himself in such a situation.

“Something is going to cross my desk that I haven’t been exposed to, and they’re going to help me with it, and that’s going to help the organization,” Lynn said, via the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That’s all I care about.”

Lynn’s just been hired, so it makes sense that the possibility of getting fired is reserved for the recesses of the mind. NFL job security can get tenuous quickly, although Lynn should continue to enjoy it if Whisenhunt and Bradley provide the assistance that Lynn believes they’ll bring to the table.

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Jameis Winston realizes his poor choice of words after school speech

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 24:  Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to playing the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 24, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston probably meant no harm. But the words that came out of his mouth during a school appearance Wednesday were the kind he probably should have given more consideration to, and his response made that clear.

Via Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times, Winston was talking to a group of third- through fifth-graders at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg, when a group of boys became less than focused on him. So to get their attention, he asked the boys to stand up.

“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston said. “But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken. You know what I’m saying? One day y’all are going to have a very deep voice like this. One day, you’ll have a very, very deep voice.

But the ladies, they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong. I want y’all to tell me what the third rule of life is: I can do anything I put my mind to. Scream it!”

The message that kids can achieve anything they want if they work for it is valid and valuable. The message that girls are supposed to be quiet while boys are expected to take the lead took away from that immediately — especially in the context that it was coming from a player who faced sexual assault allegations while at Florida State.

“One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I’m strong too,'” said Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at Melrose.

Volland also said that Winston’s speech was well-intentioned and uplifting.

“We’ve been working so hard with our students giving them hopes and dreams and helping them raise their expectations,” she said. “In the beginning, it was so good because he was talking about, ‘You can do it!’ and really giving our students a positive message.”

To his credit, Winston seemed to realize the mistake, and when asked for comment later, said he was trying to keep the attention of the group.

“I was making an effort to interact with a young male in the audience who didn’t seem to be paying attention, and I didn’t want to single him out so I asked all the boys to stand up,” Winston said. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”

It’s easy to suggest it as overblown, or the product of a climate some consider too politically correct. And Winston’s 23.

But telling any group of girls they’re expected to behave differently and have different expectations is something that should have been outdated generations ago, and Winston’s gaffe ought to remind everyone to think about the words they choose, and the messages they’re sending, even if they’re inadvertent.

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A.J. Klein likely to leave Carolina for starting opportunity

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 06:  A.J. Klein #56 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates a missed field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein #4 of the Los Angeles Rams (not pictured) during the second quarter of the game at the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein has played pretty well when he’s been given a chance.

But on a team with three first-round picks at the position, and in a league when playing nickel defense is more prevalent with every passing year, there aren’t but so many chances.

So it’s probably not a surprise that Klein is looking for another address when free agency begins on March 9.

Via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, Klein said during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he’d probably be looking for a few team.

The 2013 fifth-rounder started the final six games for the Panthers last year when Kuechly was out with a concussion, and played well. But the Panthers also have some guy named Thomas Davis who has been to a few Pro Bowls and are trying to figure out how to work 2015 first-round linebacker Shaq Thompson in more, so there are limited snaps for a fourth linebacker.

Klein’s a starting-caliber player and good against the run, and should have plenty of opportunities for the playing time he’s looking for, just not in Charlotte.

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Report: Ravens “may balk” at Dennis Pitta’s 2017 salary

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 4: Tight end Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by cornerback Bobby McCain #28 of the Miami Dolphins in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta made it back to the field in 2016 after playing just seven games in the previous three seasons because of hip injuries and showed that the time off didn’t make him a less popular target for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Pitta led all tight ends with 86 catches during the 2016 season, although he wasn’t able to do that much with those catches. Pitta averaged 8.5 yards per catch and just over six yards per target, which limited the impact that all of those catches had on the team’s fortunes.

That explains why Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that the Ravens “may balk” at the $5.5 million that Pitta is set to make during the 2017 season. Pitta took a pay cut of $4 million last year and earned $3 million back in incentives, although it is unclear if he will be open to adjusting his deal again. Cutting Pitta would create $4.4 million in dead money and $3.3 million in room under the cap.

Pitta’s future is one of several decisions the Ravens will have to make at tight end this offseason. They hope to have Benjamin Watson back from a torn Achilles to go with Pitta, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Darren Waller and Crockett Gillmore. Keeping all six feels like too much, but all have missed time due to injuries or suspensions that complicate the team’s choices.

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Danny Shelton had wrist surgery

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 24:  Jamie Meder #98 and Danny Shelton #55 of the Cleveland Browns celebrate after defeating the San Diego Chargers 20-17 at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton was spotted with a cast on his left arm recently, which spurred questions on Twitter about what was bothering him.

Shelton revealed he had his wrist “cleaned up” since the end of the regular season and that he’ll be fine in time for next season. A Browns spokesman told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal the same thing and Shelton’s agent said his client will be working out next week.

Shelton has started 31-of-32 games since the Browns drafted him in the first round in 2015. His second season was an improvement on his rookie campaign as he recorded 59 tackles and 1.5 sacks in Hue Jackson’s first year in Cleveland.

Jackson’s second year will see a new defensive scheme introduced by new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The move will include a shift to a 4-3, which will require a shift in Shelton’s role, but it doesn’t sound like his wrist should cost him much time on the field while it is being installed.

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Thursday morning one-liners

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 11: Terrance West #28 of the Baltimore Ravens gets a hug from teammate Ronnie Stanley #79 after a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter of a preseason NFL game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium on August 11, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills have a decision to make with RT Jordan Mills.

The Dolphins signed a pretty good class of free agents yesterday.

Patriots QB Tom Brady had some fun with the theft of his Super Bowl jersey.

Wait, not everyone thinks the Jets and QB Jay Cutler would be a good mix? Impossible.

Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley’s story of adopting an “unadoptable” dog is being featured on television.

The Bengals must decide what to do with WR Brandon LaFell.

QB Patrick Mahomes would love to play for the Browns.

The Steelers hope to provide a home-ice advantage for the Penguins this weekend.

Texans RT Derek Newton is in good spirits as he rehabs his double patellar tendon tear.

Colts C Ryan Kelly has been noted as a building block by new G.M. Chris Ballard.

Could the Jaguars be making a run at DE Jason Pierre-Paul?

The Titans could use some S depth and versatility.

Fixing the Broncos OL could be a complicated job.

A look at the Chiefs top needs in free agency.

New Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is fired up about his new gig.

Raiders LT Donald Penn said QB Derek Carr was “almost 100 percent.”

The Broncos are the betting favorite to land Cowboys QB Tony Romo.

Giants G.M. Jerry Reese needs to build on last year’s splash signings in free agency.

The Eagles could justify a less splashy approach at WR.

Taking a look at Washington’s free agency needs on offense.

Will the Jay Cutler Era push the Bears in a different direction in their next QB search?

Free agency could provide a significant lift to the Lions OL problems.

OL Don Barclay’s versatility gives the Packers some options.

A look at DE Brian Robison’s future with the Vikings.

The Falcons will get a boost to a need area when some guys get healthy.

The Panthers cleared over $4 million in cap space this week.

The Saints could use free agency to shore up their CB position.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston wants to help the team as a recruiter.

Looking at the Cardinals’ draft options.

The Rams are offering a ridiculous prize to a practically unwinnable contest.

49ers executive Paraag Marathe said his job was to stay in his lane and assist the new coach and General Manager.

Our own Curtis Crabtree was the star of the Seahawks media combine, showing good hands.

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Retirement option floated for Jay Cutler

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 28: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears speaks to the media after the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 28, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Bears 13-9. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Yes, Bears (for now) quarterback Jay Cutler has plenty of leverage when it comes to a possible trade. And he seems to be ready to use it. Or at least to threaten to.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network explained on (shocker) NFL Network that Cutler is “still considering” whether he wants to play, not play, walk away, etc.

For Cutler, the retirement option is a useful tool to scare away a team that may be inclined to trade for him, but that he may not be inclined to play for. It’s also a way to save face, in the event no one trades for him, the Bears cut him, and no one offers him the starting job without having to compete with a rookie and/or slappy.

That’s the difference between Cutler and guys like Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger. For them, the play/no play option has a viable location if the decision is to play. For Cutler, retirement may be the only way to avoid washing out of the bottom of the league by spending a year getting banged around on a bad team — or to escape the indignity of a quarterback-needy league collectively deciding it no longer wants him.

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Titans honor Tim Shaw for inspiration in fight against ALS

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 27:  Tim Shaw #59 of the Tennessee Titans reacts after making a tackle for a loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during play at LP Field on November 27, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Titans had a banquet downtown for their season-ticket holders and gave out some awards, but one will be remembered far beyond the usual collection of honors for football players.

Former Titans linebacker Tim Shaw, who has remained around the team following his diagnosis with ALS, walked to the stage with center Ben Jones when it was time to open the envelope and present Most Inspirational Titan.

“There must be some problem with this,” Shaw said, via Paul Kuharsky of ESPN. com. “It says Tim Shaw. . . .

To be called inspirational is actually the most humbling thing that’s ever happened to me,” Shaw continued. “To me, it’s inspirational when you face something that is not cool, something that scares you, something that can potentially bring you down, and you go right at it. To me that’s inspirational.

“So if that’s what I am doing, you can call me inspirational.”

Shaw, who played for the Titans from 2010-12, was diagnosed with the degenerative disease in 2014. He has been a fixture around the team since, offering motivational speeches and a presence for a team that made great improvements last year.

“You had a large part in what happened in 2016 for this Titans football team,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey told Shaw. “He came in training camp and had such an impactful message to this football team that he changed a lot of lives.”

Shaw’s approach to his fight has been something any team would want to embrace, and part of the reason they made him a “Titan for life” last summer, putting him on the roster for a day during training camp so he could retire with the team.

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Fernando Bryant fired by high school over social media post

Fernando Bryant of the Detroit Lions during a game between the Detroit Lions and New York Jets on October 22, 2006 at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Jets won 31-24. (Photo by Brian Killian/NFLPhotoLibrary) Getty Images

Former Jaguars and Lions cornerback Fernando Bryant has been fired from his job as a high school coach over a seemingly innocuous photograph his wife posted on social media.

Strong Rock Christian School initially hired Bryant as a teacher and its head football coach, but then sent him a letter three weeks later telling him that he would not get the job.

“This letter will confirm that Strong Rock Christian School has made a decision not to move forward with your employment in the position of head coach of the football team and physical education teacher. As we discussed, after we made the offer to you, some within our parent community raised concerns regarding your family’s public presence on social media and the internet and questioned whether the postings and information were consistent with our Christian values. We’re sorry that our relationship had to end before it started. We wish you the best,” the letter stated, via Atlanta TV station 11 Alive.

Bryant says he’s baffled by the decision. The school did not tell him specifically what was posted on social media to get him fired, but he was led to believe it was a picture of himself and his wife holding a bottle of alcohol. Bryant said the school never told him employees weren’t allowed to drink alcohol.

“I’m a Christian, but that’s the one thing that gives Christianity a bad name, when we start passing judgment on one another,” Bryant said.

Bryant was the Jaguars’ first-round pick in the 1999 NFL draft. He played five seasons in Jacksonville and four in Detroit.

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NFL study says Texans-Raiders Mexico City game generated $45 million

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 21:   A general view of the field prior to the game between the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders at Estadio Azteca on November 21, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images) Getty Images

A study commissioned by the NFL on last year’s game between the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders played in Mexico City has determined the event generated $45 million.

In a story by the Associated Press on the study – produced by Ernst and Young – the activity around the game generated $43 million in tourist spending, of which $32 million was incremental to the Mexico City economy.

The 27-20 victory by the Raiders was attended by 76,473 at Estadio Azteca. It was the first NFL game to be played in Mexico since the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals played in the same stadium in 2005.

The Raiders will return to Mexico City next season and host the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Just like the NFL’s increasing schedule in London, if their games abroad continue to generate significant returns in profit the league will undoubtedly continue to expand its reach into new locales.

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