Got a problem, Commish?
It will be interesting to see what reaction the NFL commissioner's office has to the latest hard lick delivered by the Steelers' Hines Ward, who is regarded as the best-blocking wide receiver in the league. Ward, who was fined twice recently by Commissioner Roger Goodell for what the commissioner regarded as unnecessary roughness, laid out Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers with a perfectly timed block in Sunday's game. Rivers was on the ground for quite some time, and the television announcers said blood was coming from his mouth. Tests later revealed he has a broken jaw and is likely out for the season. The supposed transgressions for which Ward was fined before were not penalized when they occurred. Nor was a penalty flag tossed for Sunday's hit, which was perfectly clean and legal. This brings us to the comments that Ward's teammate Troy Polamalu made after Ward got his "bills" in the mail from the commissioner's office following the Jacksonville and Baltimore games. The hard-hitting safety bemoaned the trend toward what he called "flag football" and said the league is quickly losing "the essence of what real American football is about." Polamalu said the NFL "loses so much of its essence when it becomes like a pansy game." Goodell called Polamalu's remarks "very disappointing." What's really disappointing is the direction in which Goodell is trying to take the sport. Football is a game of hitting and bursts of violent action. Few object to rules that have been put in place to protect quarterbacks when they are in a defenseless position, but even that has gotten ridiculous. Players are being fined for hits on quarterbacks that are in no way flagrant or designed to injure. The Steelers' James Harrison was just recently the victim of one of those phantom penalty calls. And Jets safety Eric Smith was suspended for a game and fined a whopping $50,000 for a hit that knocked out Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin, even though there appeared to be no intent to hurt Boldin. Boldin was going for a pass, Smith was trying to break it up and they just happened to hit helmet to helmet. It's interesting to me that a league that makes money by selling videos of heavy hits goes out of its way to fine players who are simply playing the game the way it was intended to be played. The NFL is the most powerful and popular sports enterprise in the country, by a wide margin, but they should take note of the dwindling interest in NASCAR racing. NASCAR drivers generally are behaving better on and off the track. Some of the short tracks where the drivers swapped paint have been shut down in favor of big superspeedways, there is less rough driving and there are fewer physical altercations among the drivers, and the result is that the sport has drifted so far from its rough-and-tumble roots that many people are tuning out. The NFL has been called the No Fun League for banning what it considers excessive celebrations. If Commissioner Goodell keeps fining players like Hines Ward for doing what they're supposed to be doing, we may someday be calling the NFL the No Football League.