The NFL’s Problem

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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.


  • To add a little more fuel to the fire…. Officials gave the Steelers the wrong cues, leading to the botched ending.


    • Hey, Nonny… (Sorry, just a little choral director humor.) It was great to meet you on Sunday, and I only wish the game had ended differently, because now I suppose we can never again be in the same room when the Steelers are playing…

      j/k. To your point, check out the Smolderings tomorrow for more fuel, as if more was needed…


  • So maybe they should crowd source all the plays under review. The NFL experts are doing a crappy job convincing people they’re fair and consistent, so let everyone at home take over the job

    You register, you get your NFL officiating number (probably linked to a credit card so you’d have one vote per source of capital), and when a play is under review, the NFL provides to the home viewers about 10 replays and you have 2 minutes to vote with only two choices. The most popular answer decides the call and the game goes on. Maybe it would also add a boost to viewing figures as well.

    It can’t be worse than what happens now. It wouldn’t matter why you voted the way you did–spite, stupidity, whatever. As far as we know, those are part of the official decision process anyway and I’d trust my drunken neighbor as much as the NFL.

    As for what happens to the Steelers now– Come on, people! We’re not the Bengals so that wasn’t our Super bowl. We were good enough to beat the Patriots, Ben was better than Brady, missing key parts the rest of the team played up to their jobs, we’ll get back some of those keys and the things that went wrong will be things we won’t do again when we beat them on our way to the SB. Tomlin is great at helping these players channel anger, frustration and disappointment and I have no doubt he’ll do it this time. It took me 36 hours to believe this and his press conference was a big part of it. He’s absolutely right–how this team responds now is more important than what happened.

    Or as my dad liked to say: You don’t cry over spilled milk when you’ve got a cow in the barn.

    So I’m sorry Rebecca but if you put that lucky jersey in the incinerator, you’re going to have put the ashes in a bag and wave it with your towel. This will end up just a small part of the legend. 🙂



  • Well I didn’t actually burn the shirt – I’m just washing it. But perhaps I will put it away until next season… My husband thinks your idea is excellent, and he’s pretty smart. I like it a lot.


  • I’m always so disappointed when people threaten to burn things and then just…wash them. I guess I have a dramatic family. My brother once threatened to burn his bike if something happened, although I can’t remember what, it happened and then we all went outside and watched him do it, my parents only concern that there was a hose available in case of too many flying sparks. He was about 10 at the time. My grandmother burned her wedding dress after an argument with my grandfather and my greatgrandmother burned her NRA membership card and sent a photograph of it aflame to them. Perhaps we’re pyromaniacs?

    I am glad you didn’t burn anything that said Steelers on it. The Towel (caps on that T, please) is so petty and vindicative that I’m really afraid to do anything that might upset the very small amount of Steelers swag I have.

    I’m glad your husband likes the idea. If I come to Pittsburgh, will he let me sit in his chair?!!

    Earthling (who, by the way, got superstitious over the log in problem and has given up for the season)


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