"But, you know, he's got all the power; that may be part of the problem, that there needs to be some type of separation of power like our government...I don't think it should be just totally based on what two or three people may say who are totally away from the game. I think it should be some of the players who are currently playing."- Troy Polamalu
"For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood. " Article 20 of The Magna Carta
I honestly don't know if Troy Polamalu was just speaking off the top of his head, or if his words were carefully chosen over time. Given the nature of his team's relations with the NFL commissioner's office this year, you could safely assume that commissioner Roger Goodell looks a bit like a tyrannical king to Pittsburgh Steelers players.
Star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games to begin the season for violating the league's 'Personal Conduct Policy'. Goodell invoked the suspension for Roethlisberger's behavior stemming from a tawdry incident involving a co-ed that ultimately ended with no charges being brought against him.
You're all familiar with the case of James Harrison, who was fined this week for the third time, bringing his total to an even $100,000. That's a lot of taxation without representation. You couldn't blame the Steelers if they felt the NFL was arbitrarily making them the poster children for the new league program of behavior modification.
Perhaps they shouldn't feel too special.
There are at least two Patriots, two 49ers, a couple of Raiders, plus a member of the Seahawks and one of the Titans, who collectively racked up a nice even $80,000 in fines for various hits. Some were on called penalties, others were not. I'm not even certain I've uncovered them all, as the league is passing them out in twice-weekly blocks, so numerous and severe are the player transgressions -- numerous and severe, that is, as far as the the commissioner's office is concerned. Goodell & Co. seem to have an idea of what they want football to be. But in instilling their idea, they are in conflict against what football currently is, as well as bringing them up against the men who play it.
And then there are those who have played it in the past, the guys who helped make the league the powerhouse it is today -- the players who have made enough of an impact to be listed among 'The Top 100: NFL Greatest Players'. The NFL Network, owned by the league, has been counting down the best players in its history and showing what made them successful. You can find the whole list of players, many with accompanying video, here.
Bruce Smith, the NFL's all time sack leader with 200, came in at No. 31 on the NFL's list. In the 3:47 video highlight reel, I counted 10 instances where Smith would have been flagged or fined or both under current NFL rules.If he played in Buffalo today, would the crowd still be chanting 'Bruuuuuuuce', or would they really have been booing, as the referees threw flag after flag on him for leading with his helmet?
Reggie White, the 'Minister of Defense' for the Eagles and then Packers, made the list at No. 7. His video clip, by my count, shows at least six hits the league might take issue with, if he played today.
And would No. 3 Lawrence Taylor even have made the list? He loved bringing his arm down over the quarterback's shoulder. His video homage was good for eight infractions, in 4:09 of action.
There's no video on the site for No. 10 Dick Butkus, or No. 15 Deacon Jones, who originated the 'head slap'. But you get the idea.
The league is trumpeting these legends' tough, physical play as the standard for greatness, while trying to eradicate it from today's game. The NFL has promoted a certain behavior in its players over the course of time. But now they're using fines and threats of suspension to modify that behavior, mid-stream. When scientists do that, it's called negative reinforcement.
It's called something much different when your employer does it.
Troy Polamalu is on to something. This issue may just be another skirmish in an increasingly contentious labor dispute between the league and it's players. If so, Goodell and his office have made a tactical error in being so heavy-handed in it's punishments. Because when the two sides sit down to hammer out the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Polamalu's words are going to come back to haunt them, and the head office just might lose some of its autonomy.
This is the third article in a series on the NFL's 'violent hits' rules, that includes NFL Rules Vs. NFL Reality: Two Sides That Equal Coin, and NFL: IF You Can't Think Of Anything Nice To Say, We'll Fine You.