The NFL’s Problem
Photo via Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
In my recent piece I wrote this about what I discerned is a problem with the league, as follows:
Inconsistencies on everything from what qualifies as a pass reception to the circumstances surrounding the cause, length and amounts of suspensions and fines has us traveling an axis that ranges from suspicion of incompetence to corruption. Contrast the treatment of Burfict with the constant ‘random’ drug tests that James Harrison must endure. Currently, compare the differing treatment of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rob Gronkowski and George Iloka. The disparities among the crimes committed and the punishments meted out are stunning. This has led, among other things, to conspiracy theories that there is a New England bias, and that Gronk’s punishment was calibrated to insure his presence for the big game with the Steelers. Steelers Nation has been living by the credo of just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that someone isn’t out to get you as it relates to the league for years. The idea that there might exist biases (let’s break up the Steelers/promote the Cowboys or Pats) where the league places a thumb on the scale for selected franchises or players are incredibly corrosive, and don’t have to be true to be extremely damaging.
Where to begin. How about with Homer’s final observations about the game where he drew some not at all outlandish comparisons to fake wrestling?
When I was in college I loved fake wrestling because it was this big goof. My roommate and I would tune in religiously at 11pm on weeknights and marvel at the feats of chicanery that would be concocted by the villains to confound and persecute the heroes that, depending on where we were in the narrative, would lead to either a tune in next week for the hero’s revenge, or some magnificent act of self-destruction by the villain, followed by a phoenix-like resurrection by our hero reconfirming that good almost always triumphs against evil. This is what Homer refers to as the ‘Dusty Finish’. What’s concerning is that it doesn’t feel like some over the top sour grapes reaction by some deranged biased fan. So, what would be wrong with that? Let me count a couple of the ways.
If you suspected that for business or entertainment reasons someone wanted to put that thumb on the scale, would you gamble a dime of your hard-earned money on a potentially rigged outcome? Would you invest emotionally in a team if you knew that theirs was to be the role of the hapless villain or the tragic bridesmaid, destined forever to be the Washington Generals to someone else’s Harlem Globetrotters? Does it change the tone of things when it isn’t relative cartoon violence that is on display? When Gronk decides to elbow smash a prone helpless opponent, said opponent ends in concussion protocol, and our hero gets a slap on the wrist because, well, because the game with the Steelers wouldn’t nearly be so exciting if he had been sitting at home serving the multiple game suspension he so richly deserved.
I could go on, but I would be redundant to observations in the national media. (I even got the beneficiaries of ‘let’s break up the Steelers/promote the Cowboys or Pats’ right). The comeback should have been something along the lines of the league leadership being too smart and high minded for it to come to this, and then we add this little nugget to the mix.
Yes, they may well be that greedy and dumb. Besides one friend reminding me of a Joe Gibbs quote that says that you don’t want to put yourself in the position where the outcome of one play can decide your fate, the feedback, especially from disinterested fans who harbor no great love for the Steelers, was that the reversal of the Jesse James touchdown was an absolute travesty.
We can engage in self-flagellation if you like. The disastrous three and out that opened the door for Tom Brady’s late game heroics, Sean Davis’ dropped interception, the lack of a coverage solution for Gronkowski, the decision to not clock the ball and take the safe field goal, whether there was a valid rationale for the chosen interpretation of the reception rule. You can hang your hat on any of those things if you like, but this time the outrageous decision on the James play trumps all other considerations, not just because it changed the outcome of one game, but also it exposed the league in a manner which may damage its credibility.
But don’t listen to me. Steelers leadership and their players were predictably classy enough to take the high road, but others on the South Side were not so charitable.
This is not the end of the world. The path ahead was made more difficult, but even this may be converted to fuel for a championship run. But the stench will linger.