The NFL, Calvin Johnson, and Trust

>> 3.21.2011

Forbes.com said the “Trust is gone” in NFL labor negotiations.

The National Football Post said it’s an “Issue of Trust.

SI.com thought the lack of trust between league and players didn't bode well.

The players didn’t trust the owners when they said revenue structuring was required for the health of the league. The owners didn’t trust the players enough to open the books and prove it to them. Now the fans don’t trust either the owners or the players. The owners don’t even trust each other . . . now, Commissioner Goodell has sent a letter to every NFL player, trying to erode their trust in each other.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Even though I’m late to the party on this, it’s worth bringing up again: the NFL’s competition committee ruled that there will be no Calvin Johnson rule; they will not review the language that describes what is and isn’t a catch in the end zone. Though the way the Going-to-Ground rule was applied and interpreted flatly contradicts the text and intention of the rule, and Calvin’s game-winning catch clearly passed Brad Childress’s “50 drunks in a bar” standard, the NFL  is just fine with the rule as-is—though they might scribble in some of Mike Pereira’s made-up language to make it look good.

The CBA, the lockout, the union, the owners . . . we can forgive all that. $40 parking, $8 beer, $4 bottles of water you can’t have the cap of, so your kid immediately spills it everywhere . . . we can forgive that, too. Paying hundreds of dollars a year for NFL Sunday Ticket, two minutes of ads before and after every kick and punt? We can probably even forgive that, too . . . just don’t mess with the game.

The NFL is a professional football league. We pay to watch football be played at its highest level. The best players, the best coaches, the best officials, the best stadiums, that’s what we want to see, week in and week out. Unfortunately, the NFL no longer thinks of itself as a sport, but as a television product. What did Roger Goodell have to say about this year’s Super Bowl? He called it “the most-watched show in television history.” Not event, “show.” Meanwhile, hundreds of fans paid astronomical prices for legitimate tickets that didn’t correspond to actual seats.

It’s undeniable: the league now considers itself a television product first, a spectator sport second—and who can blame them? The NFL’s ratings, time slot, and demographics bring in unprecedented truckloads of carrier and advertiser revenue. It doesn’t matter whether the outcome is fair, as long as you keep watching.

mills_lane

The NFL is a long way from MTV Celebrity Deathmatch, or even the WWE. I’ve never believed the NFL is “rigged,” or that predetermined outcomes would even be possible in an NFL game with 90 active players, 30+ coaches and assistants, and seven on-field officials. However, rulings like this pull the game closer and closer to “Sports Entertainment:”

Sports entertainment is a type of spectacle which presents an ostensibly competitive event using a high level of theatrical flourish and extravagant presentation, with the purpose of entertaining an audience.

Throughout my lifetime, every time the NFL has changed a rule, it’s made the game better. Instant replay is a great example: the NFL was first to adopt it, and first to decide that unlimited replay dragged too much on the game. They abolished it, then brought it back in limited form when the technology allowed it to be fast. They’ve continued to fine-tune it throughout the years, constantly balancing the need to get calls right with the cost of interrupting the flow of the game. Even when I’ve disagreed with the NFL’s individual decisions on replay, I’ve always understood their thinking, and applauded their efforts.

I have no idea what they’re thinking now. You won’t find any observer of football that believes Calvin Johnson didn’t really catch that ball, or didn’t really score a touchdown—just those who’ll point at the NFL’s rules, and nonsensical interpretation of them. Clearly, defining a catch five different ways (in bounds, at a boundary, non-scoring/scoring, going to ground) has dumped muddy gray paint all over the rulebook; that the Competition Committee looks at it and sees a “bright line” makes me wonder what their motivation could possibly be.

When you combine it all with the CBA, the lockout, the $40 parking, the $8 beer, the $4 bottles of water you can’t have the cap of, so your kid immediately spills it everywhere, the hundreds of dollars a year for NFL Sunday Ticket, and the two minutes of ads before and after every kick and punt, it makes me not trust the NFL.

8 comments:

Anonymous,  March 21, 2011 at 1:24 PM  

Watch this same thing happen 3-4 years from now to Mike Wallace or Dez Bryant or Julian Edelman.

Watch them crawl all over each other to get the rule changed then.

NorthLeft12 March 21, 2011 at 2:20 PM  

I am no expert, but I agreed with the ref(s?) that it was not a catch. That's why receivers always tuck the ball into their chest when they hit the ground after going up to catch the ball. To minimize the chance that the ball jiggles loose. Calvin palmed it and unsurprisingly it came loose when it hit the ground. Incomplete.
I guess the one complication and valid question was whether Calvin's steps in the end zone constituted control of the football and a "move", whatever that is.

But I definitely agree that the rule must be consistently applied everywhere on the football field. That is what is so frustrating to me.

Ty March 21, 2011 at 2:36 PM  

Anon--

I'm trying really hard not to be that cynical! In fairness, this isn't the first time this rule's been called into question (see: Lance Moore's 2-point conversion in the Super Bowl).

Peace
Ty

Ty March 21, 2011 at 2:37 PM  

NorthLeft12--

"I guess the one complication and valid question was whether Calvin's steps in the end zone constituted control of the football and a "move", whatever that is."

That, plus his leg, knee, butt, and other hand being down. He'd have been ruled DOWN BY CONTACT if he weren't in the end zone. Silliness.

Peace
Ty

theicon77,  March 21, 2011 at 7:05 PM  

I bring caps with me to the game. I am not spending $4 bucks so some guy can kick over my water as he is going back to his seat.

theicon77

LionsFanROC,  March 23, 2011 at 9:44 AM  

We put up with too much BS as fans, but the NFL won't change it's ways until us fans stop watching. I can't imagine that happening any time soon, but at some point they're going to break the camels back with a seemingly small straw and wonder "what the hell happened. This entire off-season is showing a complete lack of foresight about the future of the NFL and, more importantly, it's fans.

Ty March 28, 2011 at 4:22 PM  

theicon77--

THAT. IS. BRILLIANT.

I am doing that.

Peace
Ty

Ty March 28, 2011 at 4:23 PM  

"At some point they're going to break the camels back with a seemingly small straw and wonder "what the hell happened."

I don't want this day to come, but damned if you didn't hit the nail on the head. Well said.

Peace
Ty

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