Curran: The fumbles never stop in the NFL


The NFL makes money hand over fist in spite of itself.

Unfortunately, the people who run it -- owners, league office, members of the various governing committees -- reside in a bubble of smug self-importance and have mistaken themselves for geniuses.

No matter what they do, the sport stays stupidly profitable. Fans keep reaching for their credit cards to pay for tickets, merchandise, etc., and companies keep on pumping in advertising and sponsorship dollars. The value of some franchises has DOUBLED since 2013.

The result? A "hold my beer . . . " mentality that leads to poorly vetted, short-sighted investigations, alterations or legislations that are ramrodded through and wind up holding the game hostage.


Deflategate is the perfect example. The league allowed itself to be hijacked by some penny-ante, vigilante bull that wound up lasting almost two years, costing about $25 million and still resulted in Tom Brady holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.

That really should have been a cautionary tale that the league needs to measure twice and cut once.

It wasn't. Because here we are in 2018 and the league has created not one, but TWO situations that are going to overshadow the games, the players and the competition.

And both were pushed through by the boys in the bubble.

First, the new anthem policy. After getting around a table with aggrieved players last October, pledging almost $90 million in funds in November and making at least decent progress toward showing players their concerns were heard, the NFL allowed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to grandstand his view of what patriotism really is. Jones was the leading voice behind the NFL's new anthem policy passed in May, declaring players could either stand at attention during the national anthem or stay in the locker room.

Which touched off two months of controversy, reinvigorated commentary from the Oval Office and -- eventually -- forced the league to offer this joint statement with the NFLPA,

"In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, " the league and union said, "we have to come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA's grievance and on the NFL's anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing."

So the league ensured a large portion of media and fan focus will be as much about what happens before the game as what happens during it. Again. And when the game ends? The braintrust ensured we'll be talking about . . . not the game.


In March, the league cloak-and-daggered a new "helmet rule" into reality. The ill-designed, ambiguous, open-to-all-kinds-of-interpretation legislation was stealthily passed into law.

It was truly bizarre. For months, everyone with an interest in NFL football was fixated on the promised changes to the catch rule.

And then, just before the owners meetings wrapped up, here comes a rule that is guaranteed to alter games and make players, coaches and officials lose their minds.

Everybody's in favor of players leaving the game with their wits and life expectancy intact. So why didn't the NFL trumpet this major change for weeks leading up to the meeting so that there could be a victory lap about how proactive they were being?

Well, either the idea just struck them when they showed up in Orlando or they didn't want weeks of discussion and pushback from players, coaches, officials, fans and media.

I'm dubious about the league's motivation being simply player safety. It's money first. That means making the product more palatable for moms and dads who increasingly don't want their sons to play youth football. That means, when the next sobering CTE study is released, being able to point at proactive measures taken to make the game safer.

Brains? Well, if it helps those that's great, too.

The end (getting players to stop leading with their helmets) does not justify the means (a shoddily written rule that will cause more blowback than progress).

Spend a minute looking at this NFL Fact Sheet looking at the "helmet rule" and then click on the examples by position, specifically the ball carrier video.

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn narrates and makes a point of stating that when a player hits with a "flat back" and turns himself into a human torpedo or uses the helmet to punish a defender, that's a foul. Good. Yay. Easy.

Then there are video examples in which a player (former Patriot Dion Lewis at the 2:20 mark, for example) does not have a "flat back" and is bracing for contact as much as he's initiating it. And Lynn says that would be a foul.

If the guy doing the instructional video has that liberal and interpretation of it, tell me how the ref on the field in real time with the league looking over his shoulder is going to call it with confidence?

Some will call 'em all and let the league sort it out. Some will call none and deal with the fallout.


What should the league have done? They should have declared that, in 2018, they would call the rule that was already on the books.

The 'ol Section 1, Article 8, Part G, where it reads that unnecessary roughness will be called, "if a player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/"hairline" parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily."

Let everyone know that ballcarriers would be on the hook, too, if they were purposely doling out punishment with their heads rather than trying to protect themselves from taking a 260-pounder clean in the sternum. One of those "rule emphasis" deals the league likes to do. Roll with that. See how it goes. Take the visual and anecdotal evidence. Look at the penalty and concussion data. Talk to teams about whether it was coached and executed differently as the season went along. Then see you at the next owners' meeting, where a rules change goes into effect if it had the desired impact.

Instead, the introduction in March was on the Twitter feed of NFL VP of Media Brian McCarthy.


And now, the league will deal with the helmet rule fixation. Which may or may not trump the anthem fixation. Which the league revived.

Nice work, fellas.


Contact Us