It’s October, which means we’re in the midst of the annual pink-a-palooza celebration in the NFL to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the over-the-top PR campaign put on by the league to go along with it. Players sporting neon pink gloves, cleats, socks, towels and more have become a familiar sight in recent years, all in the good name of supporting the NFL’s A Crucial Catch program.
Well today, in response to an outcry of general dissatisfaction from both fans and teams, the NFL confirmed that the league will stop using pink penalty flags after week 5.
While breast cancer awareness is certainly a fantastic cause, and the league’s campaign to call attention to it a seemingly a great idea, some have questioned how much of the proceeds from the Crucial Catch program actually go to support cancer charities, and whether this isn’t some grand effort to divert attention from the league’s numerous other PR issues – namely the controversy surrounding the violence of the sport and resulting brain injuries suffered by its players.
But regardless of your feelings on those matters, with the inclusion of pink first down markers, pink wristbands, pink mouthguards, pink captains patches, pink chinstraps and the like, there’s a chance that you’ve been feeling like the game has been overtaken by the color, to the point of distraction. And when it comes to pink penalty flags, it seems that everyone – including the NFL brain trust – agrees that the league has finally gone too far.
The use of the pink penalty flags originated from an 11-year-old fan who wrote a letter to Roger Goodell suggesting the idea — and Goodell jumped on the multi-pronged PR move like a cheetah, implementing it for just one game last season. But this weekend saw neon fuchsia laundry all over the field, with refs in each game using the hot pink flags to mark a penalty, leading to confusion for fans, players and announcers alike. So rather than continue the practice throughout October, the league decided to pull the plug after one week.
Fear not fans of all things pink, we’ll still get to see pink shoelaces and skull caps for the rest of the month (yeesh) … but the pink flags will be gone after tonight. Thank goodness.
As expected, the NFL Owners voted to abolish the infamous “Tuck Rule” by an overwhelming margin today, bringing an end to one of the more controversial rules interpretations in recent history. The owners also voted to ban ball carriers from initiating contact with the crown of their helmets in the open field - a rule that should prove to be wildly controversial in its own right over the coming weeks and months.
As we know, the Tuck Rule was made famous in 2001 when Tom Brady lost the ball after starting a passing motion – but while bringing the ball back down toward his body – during a snowy playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. It allowed a fumbled ball that is moving forward in the hand of a quarterback to be ruled an incomplete pass … an interpretation that flew in the face of common sense every time it was applied. Well after more than 11 years, reason has finally prevailed, and the rule was eliminated by a 29-1-2 vote.
For their part, the victims of that call – the Raiders – have responded to the rule change via Twitter, en Espanol:
Adios, Tuck Rule.
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) March 20, 2013
After being on the losing-end of quite possibly the worst call in professional football history (and certainly the most scrutinized), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers stepped up to the mic on his weekly ESPN Radio show yesterday, where he calmly and clearly stated exactly what needed to be said about the NFL and their ongoing labor dispute with the referees.
Rodgers went on a tirade about the overall stance the NFL has taken in all this, later digging into their convoluted statement about the “Innacurate Reception”, and did so with unprecedented candor from an all-pro player (who have all been warned against speaking out against the refs. He even went so far as to apologize to the fans on behalf of the players, noting that the NFL would never do such a thing. And while Rodgers can most certainly expect a fine from Mr. Goodell, if finally having a marquis player step up and make a statement like this forces the league to take a long hard look at itself, then it will all be more than worth it.
You can listen to the whole thing for yourselves HERE, but these are the key excerpts:
“Some stuff just needs to be said,” Rodgers said. “First of all, I’ve got to do something that the NFL is not going to do, and I have to apologize to the fans. Our sport is generated, the multi-billion machine, is generated by people who pay good money to come watch us play. And the product on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control.
“Like I said in the first week, I said, ‘I’m OK with replacement refs as long as they don’t have a direct impact on the game.’ Obviously last night there was a direct impact on the game on multiple plays that we’ll get into. But my thing is I just feel bad for the fans. Because they’re pay good money to watch this. The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit.“
Rodgers went on to point out that this is a league who had previously locked out the players, and are now gambling on low-level officials who are in way over their heads.
As the debate rages on as to just how horrifying the impact of the replacement refs (and the “Inaccurate Reception“) have been to the NFL and its brand, and as the league meets with the NFLRA for the fourth consecutive day with hopes of reaching a settlement and ending the madness, we thought it important to take a step back and at least look at what are keeping the two sides apart in their current labor dispute.
With the sky falling around the NFL today, with Aaron Rodgers calling the league out for tarnishing the game, and with fans threatening boycotts, it would seem that the league would be in a hurry to put this mess behind them. So what, exactly, is the hang up here???
As with every labor dispute ever, this is mostly about money. At the end of the day, we’re talking about $3 million dollars per year for the NFL to fund the NFLRA’s proposal. And while everyone (including us) has cast Roger Goodell as the villain in all of this, it’s important to remember that he works for the 32 NFL owners, and that this lockout is a very calculated business strategy.
The primary issue at hand here is the referees’ pension. The league is looking to move the officials – who are currently part-time employees, mind you – from their existing defined-benefit retirement plan (pension) to a defined-contribution plan, otherwise known as a 401k. Given the state of the economy, it’s something most corporations have done in recent years (although the NFL is a tax-exempt, nonprofit, government-sanctioned monopoly, so …).
The refs aren’t down with that plan, especially since the league’s business is booming to the tune of $10 billion in revenue annually. Last week, the referees’ union offered that new officials would go to a 401k, with existing referees getting grandfathered in under their old pension system, but the NFL hasn’t yet accepted that part of the proposal.
Yes, we realize the poor replacement refs are taking the brunt of all the criticism here, when it really should be directed squarely at Roger Goodell …. but still, this is good stuff (CLICK TO EMBIGGEN):
Laughing to keep from crying … replacementgoogle.com is also hilarious.
This will be the image that encapsulates the replacement referees’ saga during the 2012 NFL season. And hopefully, it will be the moment that finally breaks the back on the league’s lockout of the regular refs:
You’ve all seen it by now (VIDEO HERE). The Seahawks beat the Packers on a last-second hail mary that was somehow ruled a touchdown by one official at the same time as the back judge ruled it an interception. A “Touchception”, if you will. And madness ensued.
The officials even went under the hood to review the play – although technically, posession is not reviewable – and came back with the same decision: Golden Tate had achieved simultaneous posession with M.D. Jennings, awarding the Seahawks a TD. This, despite seemingly obvious video evidence that clearly showed Jennings clutching the ball to his chest before Tate reached an arm in and wrestled the ball away in the pile.
If you’ve been listening to the debate over the replacement refs, and wondering exactly how they impact the game negatively or jeopardize player safety, I give you Exhibit B (Exhibit A HERE).
Oakland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey left today’s Raiders-Steelers game on a cart, after taking this brutal helmet-to-helmet hit in the endzone from CB Ryan Mundy:
Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious, and laid motionless on the field before being taken to a local hospital with a neck injury. No flags were thrown on the play.
On Sunday, Seahawks WR Golden Tate delivered a knockout blow to Cowboys LB Sean Lee on a blindside block that made all the highlight reels, and has now left Tate $21,000 poorer after being fined by the NFL.
The hit also gave us one of the more brutal photos of the football season so far:
The look on Lee’s face – with Tate’s helmet planted squarely in his jaw – is downright scary, and it’s fortunate that Lee wasn’t seriously injured on the play (although, the long-term effects on his brain probably won’t be known for a while).
WATCH THE PLAY HERE (GIFs below). In real time, it most certainly is a blindside block, but it’s looks as though Tate put his helmet in Lee’s chest and wasn’t aiming for his head (despite the result). Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has said that “I don’t think he could have done it any cleaner”.
We’ve been saying this since the pre-season, but after this weekend’s games (and particularly the Monday night junk show that we all witnessed), it’s become more than painfully obvious that the replacement officials charged with policing the multi-billion dollar NFL are in over their heads … and it’s having a very real affect on the quality of the product on the field.
And unfortunately, it seems that Roger Goodell just doesn’t care.
Last night’s Falcons-Broncos game put a national spotlight on the problem, as the scab officials bumbled their way through an hour-long first quarter, clearly unable to handle the speed or intensity of the game as it unfolded before them. At one point, there was a 6-minute delay in the action after players got into a shoving match on the field after a fumble, and the replacements struggled to restore order (or make a definitive call on the recovery). The scene has been described as “chaotic”, with MNF announcer Mike Tirico finally breaking down and saying, ”Honestly. It’s embarrassing. The command and control of this game is gone”.
Later, the replacements showed their lack of grasp on the pro rule book with a couple of egregious spots. Toward the end of the half, the Broncos were awarded 10 yards for a defensive holding penalty against Atlanta – an infraction that only carries a 5-yard penalty in the NFL (it’s 10 yards in college). In the third quarter, with Atlanta driving in their no-huddle offense, the game was paused again while the officials sorted out the spot on another defensive holding penalty. This one had been incorrectly spotted from the previous spot, instead of the spot of the foul as NFL rules dictate.
So even when these officials ultimately got the call right (with the help of the on-field NFL officiating supervisor), it completely interfered with the flow of the game, rendering it nearly unwatchable.
After having their suspensions overturned by an appeals panel on Thursday, four NFL players - Saints LB Jonathan Vilma and DE Will Smith, Browns LB Scott Fujita and free agent DL Anthony Hargrove – were immediately allowed to return to the field as soon as possible.
“Consistent with the panel’s decision, Commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league’s pay-for-performance/bounty rule,” Aiello said in a statement. “Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend.”
In a huge victory for the Saints, Smith will start the opener in New Orleans today. And although Vilma will need a few weeks to recover from a knee injury, he is expected to take the team out of the tunnel at the Superdome, and lead the crowd in a “Who Dat” chant following the coin toss.
While the ruling is a crushing blow to Roger Goodell and the NFL, it’s important to note that the suspensions are not permanently vacated, pending a further ruling by the league. It’s entirely possible (and even likely) that Goodell will find a new way to suspend the players (and especially Vilma) for “conduct detrimental to the league” … as opposed to actually intending to injure opposing players, which they clearly have no proof of.
But expect a raucous crowd in New Orleans today, as they celebrate this victory, no matter how temporary it may be. Oh, and Fujita will not play in the Browns’ opener, as he is on the team’s injured/exemption list while he recovers from a leg injury.