Dear NFL Ownership:
Can we please get back to the simple things in life?
Controversy sets its' sights squarely on the NFL all-too-often these days. We can't go a week without some convoluted rule change to ponder, a renegade knucklehead making headlines for the wrong reasons (and that includes within your own ranks), or have a sad story surface from our legendary pro football past involving a former player in health distress.
I've got a few things on my mind as you meet this week in Orlando, FL. And I also feel certain that some of these things we should talk about are also on the minds of fans throughout the league. So, if I may have your attention for even a fleeting moment, here are a few items for your consideration - hopefully to find their way into your consciousness, if not your discussions:
1) The Game Itself
It is still a great game, let's make no mistake here. But in our eagerness to impart fairness, if not parity throughout the league, we're messing with things that really don't need to be messed with. As recently as just a few seasons ago, we all seemed to know what a "catch" is. Now, we need slo-mo replay and whether the receiver made a 'football move' before determining is a catch is a catch?
C'mon gentlemen, let's not overdo the replay thing. Technology is a great tool, but just because we have it, it doesn't mean we need to rely upon it for everything. If you - and the officials - could simply subscribe to the "less-is-more" philosophy, this may even take care of itself.
2) Simplify the rules
Speaking of the 'catch' and the rules - changing the standards for what a catch is, and what a catch should be, is the no-brainer of the century. My thought here is, just "KISS" it - Keep It Simple, Stupid. If it looks like a catch, smells like a catch, feels like a catch? It's a catch, and move on. The entire football world will thank you for this.
Some clarification on what a "football move" entails, might also be helpful. We seem to know, but do the officials? Some consistency, if not simplicity, would help here.
Another challenging moment for you may come from a redefinition of what defensive pass interference may be. Defensive back is arguably the toughest position to play for any athlete in pro sports, in my opinion, and certainly the toughest on a football field.
But do I think DB's should get away with legal mugging? Nope. If a DB hits a receiver beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage, if they don't play the ball, if they hinder a receiver in any way (grabbing arms or tugging on jerseys), throw a flag.
Fans dig the long balls, the bombs and the big plays. But not at the expense of their own DB's being unfairly targeted. DPI calls were up last season, but let's not rush to judgment on changing the rule around. Turning a spot-foul into a 15-yard penalty (like the college game has) would only encourage legalized mugging in a defensive backfield, not prevent it.
Oh, and before we forget it here, replay reviews. Too long, too messy, many times too ridiculous when it's obvious to everyone at home or in the stands what a play call should be. There's a great way to simplify what should be reviewable, and what shouldn't be - allow coaches to challenge ANY call, three times per game.
They already get two. Add a third with no more replays, even for the tougher calls. If a team is out of chances, we move on. Wouldn't the game move along more quickly?
The refs would gain autonomy and authority; the fans know, the players know and the coaches know there's three shots to dispute something that may be disagreeable. That's it.
And we move on, after these words from our sponsors.
3) Show respect
I understand completely if you just decide to keep teams in the locker room for the National Anthem. No mess, no fuss, no controversy. But also, no show of respect. We need more respect shown these days, not less of it.
I applaud those of you who feel your players should protest on their own time, not on your time. I also understand those of you who are sympathetic to your players' rights as citizens to express opinion. But, there's a time and place for everything. Grandstanding, no matter the issue, just because thousands will take notice doesn't change most attitudes.
Proper respect changes most attitudes.
4) Crime and punishment
You can't completely knock bad boys out of the picture. They exist in all walks of life, not just in pro football. But if you're consistent with your punishment and the repercussions for bad behavior - you remember when you were a parent, right? - your players/kids should fall in line.
If they don't, well, the unemployment line should always be an option. But some consistency in punishment needs to be established for obvious behaviors. Tough love here, not cowering over a players' popularity, will keep the game great.
5) A nod to the trailblazers, please
Most adults say pro football is their favorite sport. It's because of the players who began this game decades ago, and the sharing of football between generations of families, that this is so. Why is the league turning its collective backside to some veteran players who started this game?
Just this past week, lawyers for former players hoping to be compensated as part of last years' class-action concussion settlement charged the NFL with trying to "game the system" and avoid paying medical benefits.
You're not trying to game the system, or play these guys, are you? Prove it. Get these guys the help they need, give them the benefit of the game's growth by helping them with costs over their health issues.
Several recent reports (including the Washington Post and Boston Globe) have former Patriot cornerback Ronnie Lippett suffering from early onset of Alzheimer's, and his claim was supposedly denied because his dementia was considered a result of sleep apnea and depression, not football. Several sources told the papers that other players are being also denied due to symptoms of their disease.
Fix this. You can be a billionaire and show compassion at the same time.
6) Keep this game great
Just use a little common sense. Don't overthink things. The NFL has long established its presence as more than just our true national pastime - football is a way-of-life for millions of fans around the globe. Football is hard for the players and for yourselves, sure, yet football can also be an honorable endeavor. Why?
I'm reminded of a Tom Hanks line in a baseball movie, A League of Their Own, that's appropriate here - "it's the hard that makes it great."
Let's keep it great. Football develops character and teamwork, it showcases extraordinary athleticism and excitement, it personifies what 'mano a mano' is all about through actions not possible for many of us ordinary folk.
So, don't mess this up okay? It really won't take much to fix things and return the focus of the game to the actual game between the chalk lines and hashmarks, rather than on replays, bad calls and a convoluted rule book.
Just give the game a little "KISS" for us all, please? It's all we - and you - really need.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and just completed his 25th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 30 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.