You go public with complaints about how the NFL conducts its business with regard to illegal hits, and you’re going to hear about it.
In the case of Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu, you’re going to even get a personal visit from the man who plays a major role in overseeing the process for the league.
That was the purpose of NFL Executive Vice President/Football Operations Ray Anderson showing up at the Steelers’ complex today.
Clearly, the NFL hierarchy — especially Commissioner Roger Goodell — did not appreciate the criticism from Ward and Polamalu after Ward collected $15,000 in fines for unsportsmanlike play in games against Baltimore and Jacksonville. Ward questioned that he didn’t know what he had done to draw the fine. Polamalu want even further, saying crackdown on dangerous tactics was turning the product into a “pansy game” and questioned the NFL’s motives.
The league was especially sensitive about Polamalu’s comments. As Anderson pointed out, the only motive is player safety. He stressed that it is not about preserving finances by toning down physical play in anticipation of the season being expanded by a game or two in the years ahead and, therefore, putting more players at risk. He stressed that it also is not about only protecting the game’s biggest stars, such as quarterbacks.
How big a deal is all this? Big enough that the NFL and the Steelers felt the need to have the meeting today, as the team was beginning to prepare in earnest for Sunday’s showdown with the New York Giants.
But from all accounts, the tone of Anderson’s meeting with Ward, Polamalu, Steeler captains Ben Roethlisberger and James Farrior, coach Mike Tomlin, and owner Dan Rooney was less an admonishment than a “clear-the-air” session. And from all accounts, the air has been cleared.
Ward seemed to get the message, saying he has put the whole matter behind him.
“It was productive,” Tomlin said. “Our issues and concerns were heard, they expressed their sentiments. And, really, it was important to have that because it was the start of laying this thing to bed and focus on what we should be focusing on, and that’s playing football.” — Vic Carucci