Maybe I missed the memo, but it seems to me the NFL is lobbying to officially put the zebra on the endangered species list.
I'm not talking about the four legged creature who inhabits large portions of Africa. No, I'm thinking of another zebra who dons the white and black, only this zebra is known to throw a piece of yellow fabric which instantly brings to a halt 22 raging beasts trying to maul each other over a piece of pigskin. Yes, I am talking about the NFL official. It is common knowledge that NFL officials hold a special place in the hearts of the higher-ups in the corporate offices, but recently we have been seeing a couple of trends that beg the questions, "Why, how and sometimes what the... ".
Over the first five weeks of the season, it has come to my attention that the NFL and their officiating crews are trying really hard to make the NFL truly a No Fun League.
The first upsetting trend is the slew of penalties that are being called during games this season. So far, an average of 15.84 penalties have been accepted each game. The average last season was 14.50 through the first five weeks. The usually soft spoken Tony Dungy put himself in the spotlight when he publicly criticized the crew that officiated his team's game last week when he said, " No. 1, we had some penalties we don't usually have, we've got to get that squared away. No. 2, we had an officiating crew that calls about 20-25 penalties a game whether there are that many to call or not. They tried to get to their average. There were some that were not penalties. There's no other way to explain it." Dungy went on to say that the team goal is five penalties per game, and he was doubtful they had committed five penalties. This kind of talk will surly bring a letter from the Commish and possibly a healthy fine.
Another trend this year that is certainly holding the No Fun League to it's name is the new rule about making contact with the officials. I'm not saying the officials shouldn't be protected, but there should be something said for accepting the occupational hazards that accompany the job. Rules have been put in place over the years protecting the referees from angry players and coaches disputing rulings on the field. That has probably saved many ref's from receiving a nasty beat down by some of this countries biggest men.
That rule is in essence a good one in itself. However, that rule seemed to breed other rules that, in my opinion, have left the officials feeling invincible. One rule that was put in place, and in my book is severely coddling to the refs, is the one where no player can criticize an official without a fine ensuing shortly afterwards.
Which means that after a game in which a player or coach feels that an official made a bad call, no one is allowed to say anything that might hurt the officials' poor feelings.
It is okay in any other profession to criticize anyone accused of doing their job poorly. Imagine if that rule applied in politics. The head-bashing that occurred to poor Mike Brown, the former head of FEMA, would have never taken place. If it had, there would have been some pretty hefty fines handed to many who questioned Brown's actions in response to Hurricane Katrina.
The other rule that has just recently been put into place is the one stating that "No player may make impermissible physical contact with a game official."
That makes sense since the last thing the league wants is a player strangling an official after a holding call, but it seems the league is looking for anyone to pin these infractions on. Take the case of Minnesota Vikings safety Willie Offord.
In one game, Offord was clearly trying to make a play on the ball when he ran dead into an official, knocking them both to the turf, and in essence, taking Offord and the official out of the play. No flag was thrown, but two weeks later, a $15k fine was levied against Willie for an "intentional full-speed run it with an official." After watching film of the so called "intentional run in" it is clear the NFL is trying hard to protect the officials from any sort of physical contact what-so-ever.
Other players around the league have felt the wrath of Tagliabue and his henchmen. Ronde Barber also received a $15k fine after trying to smack Kevin Mawae of the Jets, only to miss badly and hit the official in the eye. The initial contact didn't look too bad, in fact it is this writer's opinion that the ref did such a good job of acting hurt, I heard that the WWE is working on a contract for him to officiate the next PPV event.
Baltimore Raven's defensive stud Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed have also been subject to the NFL's fine system. We have also heard that suspensions may follow the fines. While the zebra's of Africa have fully developed a way of avoiding problems on their own, the NFL's zebras seem to rely on the all-powerful Commissioner to protect them. Maybe he should put them on the endangered species list.
I hear the paper work has already been filled out.