On Tuesday, a much-publicized meeting occurred between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Also attending the meeting were Jeff Fisher, former Titans coach and current advisor to the Competition Committee. Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who once worked for Fisher in Tennessee, also was expected to attend.
Peter King of SI.com wrote earlier today on Twitter that the league “really likes Suh” and “wants him to be a face-of-the-league type guy.” That’s fine. And it’s smart. But conducting a meeting with Suh under the guise of helping Suh understand the league’s rules and policies may not have been very wise, in the grander scheme of things.
The mere act of granting Suh the meeting enhances the perception that the rules and policies are too complicated to be understood without the assistance of the league office. So now will every player need to sit down with the Commissioner before properly understanding the rules?
The far better approach would be to equip coaches with the right information about what is and isn’t permitted, and to require them to ensure that players understand the differences.
Since October 17, 2010, when a rash of illegal hits by defensive players on defenseless offensive players forced the league to enforce the rules more aggressively, players have been expressing confusion, disagreement, and/or outright defiance regarding rules that, frankly, aren’t that hard to understand. Teams — and, specifically, coaches — are in position to tell the players in no uncertain terms what is and isn’t allowed.
But it’s not in a coach’s interests to risk neutering players, especially when coaches aren’t fined for the illegal hits. So coaches could be subtly manipulating their players, privately expressing confusion, disagreement, and/or outright defiance with the rules, which results in players publicly doing the same. More important for the interests of the coaches, the players continue to play aggressively on defense, which helps the coaches’ teams win more games. Which helps the coaches remain employed and, for the coaches that succeed, get paid a lot of money to do so.
The mere act of meeting with Suh highlights the current disconnect between the NFL and its players. Perhaps the league is simply acknowledging those differences in the hopes of resolving them before they become irreconcilable. But until the league ensures that the coaches are telling their players what the rules are and how to properly respect them, the differences will remain.