12-05-2010, 08:36 AM
Fines could strengthen players' solidarity in CBA negotiations
By John Harris
Sunday, December 5, 2010
This is bigger than James Harrison.
Not to belittle Harrison's battle with the NFL over excessive fines, but the league's rank and file could play a significant role as players and management hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
Think of the possibilities.
Players around the league unite in their disapproval of how fines are levied and strategically use that solidarity as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs questioned the league's decision to fine Harrison $25,000 for his helmet hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick — bringing Harrison's season total to $125,000.
If NFL players are unhappy because Harrison and other defenders are fined for "legal" hits that critics describe as borderline at best, what better way to express their frustration than to muck up negotiations?
In a show of frustration, Steelers defensive captain James Farrior called out NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith last week for not addressing players' concerns. Smith is the players' voice in negotiations.
"I think guys maybe just want an explanation,'' said Steelers free safety Ryan Clark, who's also the team player rep. "He does not have to come out here. He can call or whatever, but we'll see how it plays out."
Players already are unhappy over talk of an 18-game regular season. Excessive fines for questionable hits could push players over the edge and create a stalemate in negotiations.
Players need to feel they have a voice, that their opinion matters. If the current trend of dishing out fines continues, the NFL could have a real fight on its hands before a new deal is reached. If one is reached at all.
John Harris can be reached at email@example.com or 412-481-5432.
12-05-2010, 08:46 AM
NFL, players taking a hit
Sunday, December 05, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With James Harrison promising not to back off the way he's playing, no matter how many fines he gets, and Baltimore Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs referring to tonight's first-place showdown with the Steelers as a "gang fight," perhaps nobody in America will be paying closer attention to what happens in M&T Bank Stadium tonight than Ray Anderson.
With a calculator in one hand and the whip he has been cracking in another, he is determined to continue the National Football League's cause to eliminate helmet-to-helmet hits and flagrant fouls from the game, a battle viewed as noble and necessary by some and excessive and hypocritical by others.
Anderson is determined to punish anyone who keeps violating the league's policy on illegal tackles, whether it's repeat offenders such as Harrison, who already has been slapped with four fines totaling $125,000 this season or first-time offenders who, he said, face possible suspension if the foul they commit is flagrant enough.
"We have no desire to sit a player down and take him off the field, primarily because it hurts his team," Anderson said. "When that case is presented, it will be because, frankly, we have been left with little choice. We can't allow players to continue to violate the rules. We hope that time doesn't come."
And so do the Steelers, fearful that player could be Harrison, their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
'Getting it done'
In a little less than two months, Anderson has become the most reviled man in the NFL, certainly among Steelers players who wonder why he seemingly has it in for Harrison. He is the league's executive vice president of football operations, the man who determines the crime and doles out the fines that have become a weekly part of the NFL lineup.
And no NFL player has been fined as much or as heavily as Harrison, the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year. He has been fined for body-slamming Tennessee quarterback Vince Young ($5,000); launching himself and hitting "defenseless" receiver Mohamed Massaquoi of the Cleveland Browns ($75,000); using his helmet to hit New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the back ($20,000); and leading with his helmet and hitting Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was considered a "defenseless" player, after he released a pass ($25,000).
The fines are for violations of Rule 12, Section 3 that details unsportsmanlike conduct in the "Official Playing Rules of the National Football League," copies of which are distributed to every player and coach before the season. The NFL did not change any of the rules that were in effect at the start of the season; it merely started aggressively enforcing the existing rules and punishing the players in an attempt to curtail some of the illegal hits.
If Harrison wants to avoid future fines, coach Mike Tomlin said he will have to change his technique on how he makes tackles. But Harrison said he is not going to change his style and will continue to play the same way because he is "not doing anything that is outside the lines."
"In playing football, there are two things -- getting it done and there's not getting it done," said Suggs, who is in his eighth season with the Ravens. "Great defensive guys get the job done by any means necessary. I really don't care about the fines. I think they're stupid, and I think there is injustice and it's faring to the offensive side of the ball, but I don't care. I'm always going to play my way."
That is not what Anderson wants to hear.
"Coaches and organizations have figured out they do need to make adjustments to play within the existing rules if they want [their players] to stay on the field long term," Anderson said.
Then he added, "We've seen appropriate adjustments to play within our existing rules and we certainly believe it's having a positive effect."
Nonetheless, the NFL's crusade against violent hits and the manner in which punishment is being administered has left many in the league wondering where it will all end. Among those is Steelers president Art Rooney II, who is worried about what happens if Harrison keeps accumulating a tab as though he is buying condominiums on New York's Park Avenue.
"The concern I have is the word 'suspended' is being used in a very broad context," Rooney said. "I was fine with the idea that, OK, helmet-to-helmet hits are a point of emphasis and the suspended word was used in connection with that. We can live with that. Now it applies to everything, and that's a concern.
"Some of those kinds of things will have to be discussed more in offseason. There's not much we can do about it now. The key for us is to not let it become a distraction. We are coming down to the wire and we can't let this become a distraction to our season. That's the important thing. We just have to keep playing football and not get sidetracked with this stuff."
A three-year football letterman at Stanford who graduated from Harvard Law School as a specialist in labor law litigation, Anderson joined the NFL in 2006 after four years as executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Atlanta Falcons.
His role as administrator of officiating, on-field discipline and rules and regulations compliance is not so much a rise to prominence but rather a job that has placed him at the forefront of what has become a controversial and contentious process.
For example, there appears to be a general assumption that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is serving as both judge and jury in cases involving illegal hits. But Goodell is not responsible for assessing fines nor is he involved in the appeals process.
Anderson and assistant director of operations Merton Hanks, a former player, review the film and determine the fines for illegal hits. If the player wants to appeal the fine -- as Harrison did when he had two fines totaling $95,000 rejected on appeal last week -- his case is heard by Art Shell, a former Hall of Fame player and NFL head coach, and Ted Cottrell, a former NFL defensive assistant.
Shell and Cottrell are appointed and paid jointly by the league and the NFL Players Association. The NFL uses all on-field fine money for charity.
Whatever the process, the Steelers are upset that Harrison has seemingly become a target for league officials.
"I just don't see it as James Harrison is the only NFL player who doesn't know how to abide by the rules or who doesn't know how to tackle," safety Ryan Clark said, facetiously. "Why is it that every time James makes [an illegal] hit, it's for a different reason? It's like he solves a problem, they tell him don't do this, he solves that problem, and then you give him a new one to fix every week."
Not only has Harrison been fined more than any other NFL player, players who have traded punches (Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan), sucker-punched a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback (Richard Seymour) and coaches who could compromise the integrity of the game with illegal film tactics (Josh McDaniels) haven't received fines as hefty as the $75,000 penalty Harrison received for his hit on Massaquoi.
Even Rooney has started to wonder about the inequity of it all.
"I think it's hard to say he's not being targeted," Rooney said. "But I think I'll have to really reserve [judgment] and see how this all plays out and, at the end of the year, really be able to sit down and compare how James has been treated versus how other guys in the league and similar hits around the league have been treated. Right now, we have some concerns about that."
Adding to the suspicion is that the Steelers were called for six holding penalties by their offensive linemen in last Sunday's 19-16 overtime victory in Buffalo. Conversely, the Bills, who were trying to contain Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the league's top sack duo among linebackers, were not called once for holding.
But what really upset some of the Steelers players, they say, is that referee John Parry appeared to already be reaching for his flag before Harrison ever hit Fitzpatrick, the Bills quarterback, on the play in which he was fined $25,000.
"The thing that I am for is consistency," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There is no question that they will be consistent in the fine system because they have a chance to go back and look at the tape and they make those determinations. But, on the field, I have seen a lot of inconsistency and, obviously, it is tough because it happens fast, but that is the main thing you hope for as a coach or a player."
Anderson said officials have been specifically instructed to "err on the side of safety" and throw a flag when there is doubt about an illegal hit.
"We have to make sure players and coaches know they can't play on the edge," Anderson said. "We're not going to be apologetic and we're not going to be defensive. They need to comply with the rules because they will be enforced. We are going to protect our players with this committee and this office. Players and coaches need to understand that."
Or the whip will crack even more.
"I really don't care about the fines. I think they're stupid, and I think there is injustice ..."
-- Terrell Suggs
"I think it's hard to say [James Harrison is] not being targeted. But I think I'll have to really reserve [judgment] and see how this all plays out ... Right now, we have some concerns about that."
-- Art Rooney II
"It's like he solves a problem, they tell him don't do this, he solves that problem, and then you give him a new one to fix every week."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10339/1108122-66.stm#ixzz17FU29ya2
12-05-2010, 11:23 AM
Great article, inmy opinion. It shows that people are aware of all of the concerns players and fans have about consistency across the board.
My only question is this: If there is all this "concern" now, and games are affected weekly, why does no one want to deal with it now, they want to wait until the offseason? Hell, games, playoff games, even the SUPER BOWL could be affected by one call.
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