The regular season looms still more than two weeks away, but is there any doubt the NFL’s nonsense level has reached an all-time high this summer?
If I’ve got this right, and I’ve been taking pretty meticulous notes, then Robert Griffin III now considers himself the best quarterback in the NFL; Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson both claim to be the “LeBron James of the NFL”; Dwayne Bowe predicts the Browns will “show a lot of doubters how a high-powered offense really moves”; Marcell Dareus seems to believe he deserves more money than J.J. Watt; and Glover Quin is convinced that “God meant for Jordy [Nelson] to get hurt” Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
And then, of course, how can we forget the newly surfaced video of those well-known life coaches Cris Carter and Warren Sapp, schooling some of the NFL’s 2014 rookie class on the proper technique of finding a “fall guy” in a player’s “crew”, all the better to obstruct justice in an investigation and avoid punishment? You know, kind of like the NFL has accused Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady of doing when No. 12 audibled to that all-out cell phone destruction as the league's Deflategate investigation ramped up.
True, the regular season looms still more than two weeks away, but is there any doubt the NFL’s nonsense level has reached an all-time high this summer? These are clearly the glory days for blather of the truly inane variety. In this say-anything climate, no wonder we barely blink when the silly Richard Sherman-versus-Darrelle Revis debate is rekindled by Antonio Cromartie, or merely yawn when Randy Moss hints at a yet another comeback at age 38, a downright Favreian move that created little to no fanfare.
When it comes to jaw-dropping, head-scratching statements of folly, the bar is set so high in today’s NFL that we can’t really see it anymore. All we know is it keeps moving, and the absurdity seemingly comes from all directions. Hearing of the tenuous grasp of reality that some hold out there, it makes you realize talk is so cheap that many of the league's characters are letting their mouths live way beyond their means.
In no particular order: How come Charles and Peterson aren’t vying to be known as the NFL’s Steph Curry rather than LeBron? Shouldn’t it count for anything to be the league's current champion and MVP? Perhaps the hamstring-addled, big-talking Bowe should try to at least find his way onto the field this month before he christens Cleveland the NFL’s state-of-the-art offense? And might we suggest Dareus check his resume, both on and off the field, before he bemoans the Bills not elevating him to a salary level past the all-world Watt and into Ndamukong Suh territory? As for Quin, we can only surmise he views the whole player safety effort as a huge waste of time if injuries are all unavoidable and preordained by God anyway.
And then there’s Carter’s epic slice of wisdom, and there’s not a mea culpa big enough to apply effective damage control for this one. Apparently the Hall of Fame receiver believes that gold jacket eliminates the need to think before opening your mouth, because his belated explanation on ESPN’s Monday Night Football pregame show made even more of a mess of things. To wit:
Carter: “It’s really hard to go through my thought process.” Roger that.
Carter: “My heart was in the right place. I didn’t use words that I was very proud of. It’s not the kind of advice I would offer young people. I would never tell young people to break the law or avoid prosecution.”
Well-placed heart or otherwise, Carter offered exactly that advice to young people. Young people he was asked to counsel by an increasingly tone-deaf NFL office, not only last year but again at this year’s rookie symposium. So the “I would never” part of his spiel needs to have an “again” in there somewhere, because we already have audio and visual proof that he did it once.
Carter: “I do regret that day. I hope moving forward that the NFL still has enough trust in me and has me connected to their young people.” NFL to Carter: “Uh, yeah. We’ll be touch, Cris. You, too, Warren.”
Of course, we’ve all been guilty of playing the fool at some point in time. I’ve had a pronouncement or three end in egg on my face. Just last year, I might have had the Saints going to the Super Bowl, with both the Jaguars and Bucs making the playoffs, so cue up the warning about those who live in glass houses. But the shame of all the recent nonsense making NFL headlines is that it partially obscures the people who are making sense on topics far more important to the league’s welfare than whether or not LeBron James has an NFL equal.
Juxtapose all the meaningless hot air expended in the NFL with what veteran Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas had to say the other day about the league’s overblown Deflategate investigation and commissioner Roger Goodell’s heavy-handed ways. Patriots haters might dismiss it as just a player sticking up for a fellow player in defending Tom Brady, and I found Thomas’s comparison of Goodell to WWE founder Vince McMahon considerably over the top. But it was still a largely thoughtful take on the NFL’s current and never-ending contretemps.
The subject matter obviously is nowhere near as serious, but in reading Thomas’s comments about the commissioner’s credibility, I couldn’t help but liken it to when President Johnson lost Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War and thus knew he probably had lost the support of middle America as well. (True, middle America has voters, whereas Goodell serves at the behest of league owners, not the players. But Thomas does represent a certain voice of reason within the league that Goodell has undeniably lost).
“I would equate what [Brady] did to driving 66 [mph] in a 65 speed zone and getting the death penalty,” Thomas told Cleveland-area media members on Sunday, later twisting the knife by harshly comparing Goodell to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. “It was probably an oversight by the players [to give Goodell complete disciplinary powers in the 2011 CBA] because they didn’t expect him to act so unreasonably because his predecessor did not act unreasonably. But I think we’re talking about a different NFL now. Like I said, before it was more about the game. Now it’s such an entertainment business. It’s almost like the Kim Kardashian factor that any news is good news when you’re the NFL.”
And in terms of significance, nothing has been more on point and potentially more helpful to the league going forward than the suggestion made recently by Patriots president Jonathan Kraft that Goodell get out of the player discipline business, recognizing it for the quagmire it has become and farming it out to another office besides the commissioner’s. It’s a thought that has percolated within the league since the Ray Rice controversy of last fall, and it needs to begin gaining traction among owners for Goodell and the NFL’s own good.
“I think the world has changed and the complexity of some of the situations—things that I don’t think we ever thought we would be dealing with, we’re dealing with,” said Kraft on the Sports Hub radio station in Boston, taking pains to point out he was talking about issues more far-reaching than just his team’s saga, such as the league’s response to domestic violence cases.
“There probably needs to be a rethinking so that the league office and the commissioner aren’t put in a spotlight in a way that detracts from the league’s image and the game ... It probably needs to be rethought for the modern era that we’re in and the different things that are coming up that I don’t think people anticipated and how the public wants to see them treated.”
No silly talk there. Just a cold-eyed assessment that the league can’t continue to handle the player discipline and appeal process like it’s still 2006, with Goodell riding in as the newbie commissioner on a white horse, intent on cleaning up the game’s image. That chapter in league history has long since closed.
Back in D.C., there were some distinct nuggets of truth in that full-throated rant by former Washington running back/return specialist Brian Mitchell on Griffin’s ongoing accountability issues. Mitchell, now a member of the Washington media contingent with CSN Mid-Atlantic, told the team’s embattled fourth-year quarterback to “shut the hell up and start playing football. That will make you important. Win football games in this city, and you would have this city [in] the palm of your hands. You had it, and you’re starting to lose it because you talk [too much].”
Amen. And amen. Maybe Griffin didn’t need to hear everything Mitchell had to say, but he needed to hear plenty of it. And perhaps it’ll be the wake-up call that helps him revive a career that appears to be swirling down the drain after such an electrifying start in Washington. It’s time for Griffin to do it with his arm and his legs, not his mouth. While self-confidence is absolutely mandatory to play quarterback, so is self-awareness, and the needy Griffin doesn’t appear to have an ounce of it. Mitchell was one of the first to really figure that out and say so.
The nonsense factor has never been higher and is now part of the landscape in a league that dominates the news cycle like none other. But it’s not all inane blather out there. You’ve just got to know when to listen and know when the noise is begging to be ignored.