The National Football League spends a great deal of time telling you that, as intense as its regular season may be, the NFL postseason is an entirely different animal. Stakes are higher, hits are harder, yards are generally tougher to come by, and the emotion can spill over rather easily. Through highlights packages, "miked-up" segments, announcer clichés, and just the general feel of the game, you - the fan and viewer - are directed to notice as much as possible that the playoffs are the real time to watch pro football.
Of course, you're allowed to invest emotionally in the games you watch; you're actually encouraged to do so. Screaming your brains out for the home team? That beer you've seen all the commercials for will go down smoother than ever. However, if you're actually down on the field, you will be directed by the very same league to play in as automated a fashion as possible. ‘
League disciplinary czar (actually, the NFL's executive vice-president of football operations) Ray Anderson, not content with setting up an arbitrary and meaningless set of fines for what the league deems to be illegal hits, is now making players more aware than ever that opening their mouths on the field (except, perhaps to exchange quiche recipes) is quite verboten.
"Ray Anderson (recently) reminded players that comments of a physically threatening nature are always taken into account in evaluating discipline for any illegal physical contact on the field," league spokesman Greg Aiello said Saturday.
And as with seemingly every other Anderson-led discipline system, the guidelines are frustratingly nebulous. How exactly is the league to determine who trash-talked to whom, and whether said trash-talking has anything to do with that awful, evil, on-field violence? If Terrell Suggs(notes) hits Ben Roethlisberger(notes) too hard (according to the NFL) in the Steelers-Ravens divisional playoff game today, will Anderson tie it to the rather interesting T-shirt Suggs wore earlier this week and increase any fine for him?
And if all the crap Rex Ryan's been saying about the New England Patriots this last week shows up in actual violence against that nice young man Tom Brady(notes), will Anderson stand up against that big bully and give him what for in the form of a nice, big fine? Sorry - that was a rhetorical question. Malice aforethought - if you say you're going to go after Tom Brady and then you actually do so, you're guilty of premeditated ... football?
What exactly will these guys be guilty of?
Look, I'm as on board as anyone with the idea that players should be protected within reason in this very violent game; I'm all for better helmet technology, more stringent concussion tests, and more value placed on injury caution - especially if there's an 18-game season in the near future, which there undeniably will be. But I'm more and more opposed to the way Anderson and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell go about administering discipline. As Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita(notes) said on an NFLPA conference call this week, players who are given detailed reviews of the league's new policies walk out more confused than they were when they went in. That's not good for the league, the players, or the fans.
Players, especially defensive players, will tell you that in some circumstances, you actually stand a better chance of injury if you play too tentatively. The fact that nobody really seems to know what the league is specifically trying to do in their new methodology is a major problem. It was already clear that the NFL was targeting certain players for their actions. Now, they'll do the same for their words?
It's preposterous. The NFL needs to quit worrying about how to turn its game into a Little House on the Prairie re-run and spend more time hammering out a new labor agreement, so that there will be football in 2011. Just think, Mr. Anderson and Commissioner Goodell - how useful would you actually be without all these players to monitor and punish?