Memories etched in the minds of NFL fans should be of spectacular catches, clean open-field tackles, perfect throws and precise kicks.
Instead, the prevailing images over the last month, if not for the entire season, have been of the fiascos involving Odell Beckham Jr., and Josh Norman, then of Antonio Brown being laid out by Vontaze Burfict, and Adam “Pacman” Jones’ subsequent meltdown.
Among the many things the NFL should be discussing in the offseason after a distasteful and disappointing 2015 season is how to ramp up the discipline for on-field misbehavior.
Don’t mistake these actions by the very few as being emblematic of the many, of course. But when such stars as Giants receiver Beckham, and Panthers All-Pro cornerback Norman start going MMA, and in very visible situations, it can be damning. And when the stage is a prime-time playoff game between archrivals and division foes Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Vontaze Burfict/Pacman Jones mayhem erases the story lines from the other 59 minutes.
Pro Football Hall of Fame member Bill Polian has seen enough shenanigans, and he said so on his SiriusXM NFL Radio show this week.
“I broadcast a game very week for ESPN radio,” Polian says, “and I am seeing more and more of this chippy stuff, especially between people who have no business being chippy: wide receivers and defensive backs, wide receivers and cornerbacks. I mean come on, they are not exactly heavyweight fighters, and they don’t get contacted every play the way linemen and linebackers and running backs do.
“So they have no business, in my opinion, getting involved in these barking matches and these shoving matches, and in the case of Beckham and Norman, throwing punches at each other.”
How to deal with such insanity is a difficult chore for pro football. Hockey has cleaned up much of its act with strong penalties for fighting — although the fact it still allows such altercations is disturbing. Ejections for going over the top are in place.
Same for soccer, the sport featuring the most expulsions, although excessive rough play isn’t necessarily the cause for accumulations of yellow cards or straight reds.
As Polian notes, the NFL has a built-in problem when it comes to throwing a player out of a game.
“In football you have 16 games, therefore from a rules standpoint and even from a coaching standpoint, ejection from a game or removal from a game is a very high price to pay,” he says. “It disrupts the level playing field: the Giants have Eli and Beckham and that’s about it. If you take Beckham out because you feel he is out of control or he is not functioning well, and you keep him out permanently, you are disadvantaging everyone else on the team — to say nothing of the fans who pay good money to come and see him play.
“And that’s why ejection has always been very much the court of last resort with officials in the NFL, under instructions from the league office.”
Perhaps that could change this spring, and Polian “wouldn’t be surprised” if it is looked at seriously.
“If I were a general manager and a member of the competition committee, as I was for a very long time,” Polian says, “I would submit a proposal to the committee that we ought to talk about this as a league. And if we want to do away with this stuff and crack down on it, as we often do with things like chop blocks and other things that are dangerous to the players or dangerous to the game, let’s agree that we are going to instruct the officials to be a little more aggressive in their enforcement with these kinds of activities.”
Such as something similar to soccer. When the personal fouls add up, the hefty fines increase, but a suspension also is warranted. In essence, that’s what happened with Burfict, who is barred from the first three games of next season.
“Now, that may be too extreme and maybe you couldn’t get 32 owners and coaches and general managers to agree to that,” Polian says, “but you certainly can instruct the officials, as I think the league office did … prior to the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game, ‘Hey, don’t be afraid to throw the flag.’ The phrase that is used is ‘take control of the game.’
“And then if a guy is out of hand — first of all, anytime you lay a hand on an official, that should be an automatic ejection; it has been in the past — if a guy is out of control, don’t hesitate to eject him, which is what Dean Blandino told the crew in the Giants game.”
Polian urged Blandino and other competition committee members to be pre-emptive, but not to overreact.
“Be proactive about it in terms of knocking this stuff between plays off,” he says. “When the whistle blows, go back to the huddle and let’s play football. Let’s stop the mouthing off and the cheap shots and the posturing that adds nothing to the game.”
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