As recently reported by CBS Sports, the NFL is looking to take the issue of player safety beyond simply fining players for illegal hits on a fairly capricious basis. Commissioner Roger Goodell is looking to put together a Player Safety Committee that will recommend certain things to the league office and the Competition Committee. A list of names has been narrowed down to John Madden and Ronnie Lott among others, along with possibly a game official. I'm not sure how much Lott would bring to a safety discussion - this is a man who once directed that part of his pinky be amputated so that he could continue to play - but maybe Lott will provide the "what not to do" voice.
In any case, the NFL also recently sent out a Player Safety Guide to all teams, and various media members got to see it early this last week. The guide goes into the concept of sportsmanship, what will be called going forward, adds the idea that coaches and players could get dinged if they're picked up dropping F-bombs by on-field microphones or seen giving obscene gestures on camera (we can call this the Chuck Cecil Rule), and illustrations of a few of the more egregious contact examples that refs will be watching out for. Typical of the NFL, the booklet doesn't show everything that will be called; instead, the player, coach, or media member is strongly advised to consult the rulebook.
Here's my favorite part: Discipline is not based solely on situations where game officials call fouls. In some cases, a violation may be detected in a postgame review of video. If a postgame review established an egregious violation, particularly involving player safety related issues just as hits on the quarterback, the offender may be subject to suspension.
If I were an NFL player or coach, this would tick me off for two reasons. First, the postgame review gives NFL officials yet another free pass when it comes to blowing obvious calls. The ref didn't catch that late hit like he was supposed to during the game? No worries - we'll take care of it after the fact. Second, this is a league that says that it doesn't want replay replacing judgment calls, which is why some things aren't reviewable. Yet in this instance, the NFL will pore over game tape as it sees fit and penalize players after the fact on a yet-to-be-defined basis.
Sketchy at best, but the best part of these safety guides were the illustrations. This is a league that takes in about $9 billion per year, has unlimited access to game photo and video archives, and the resources to get as specific as it would like when putting together instances of contact that will be penalized. And this is what they used - five different illustrations of this quality:
Wow. Either the NFL entered into an agreement with Microsoft's clip art artists, somebody's 12-year-old kid picked up a few bucks to add to his/her allowance, or the league wanted to recreate the sheer excitement of those old-school uniform color drawings. I especially like the "owie lines" near the neck of the ballcarrier; one wonders if the equipment was created by the same ACME company that made all those defective gadgets for Wile E. Coyote.
Beyond the vagaries that still exist in the rulebook, the graphics fail here is pretty inexcusable. C'mon, NFL - you can do better than this.
- Ronnie Lott