Labriola On

Labriola on common sense, rocket science

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • It's not often you read praise here for the NFL for employing a common sense approach in the resolution of a particular issue, and if that's what you've been looking for in this space, today is your lucky day.
  • The issue in question is the one regarding the eye-black tribute Cam Heyward devised to honor his father – former NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward – and all those like his father who eventually lost battles with cancer. Heyward saw his idea as simply an extension of the current league-wide initiative to raise awareness about breast cancer by interjecting pink as a prominent color in stadiums and on uniforms during games.
  • At first, the NFL did what it usually does: go to the stick. Heyward was fined $5,787 the first time for writing "Iron" and "Head" on his eye black during a game. Informed of the fine, Heyward didn't cave and said he planned to continue this tribute for the rest of the month. His stance then drew attention from the media.
  • According to the league's escalating schedule of fines, Heyward was going to have to pay $11,576 for wearing "Iron" and "Head" on his eye-black for a second game, and then he would have to pay that same amount for every subsequent "violation" of the uniform policy.
  • I understand the uniform policy and why it must be strict, but what Heyward was doing wasn't some Ochocinco-look-at-me stunt, but rather an extension of the league's own initiative regarding breast cancer in October and its Salute to Service throughout November. And then it came out that Devon Still, when he was a Bengals defensive lineman in 2014, had worn eye-black with "Leah Strong" written on it to recognize his daughter, Leah, who had been diagnosed just before last season with stage-4 pediatric cancer. The two words, "Leah Strong," and the 4-year-old girl's fight became part of a larger movement that raised awareness about pediatric cancers and raised funds for research efforts into the diseases themselves. "When I did it, I had no idea you weren't allowed to do it," Still told ESPN about writing 'Leah Strong' on his eye-black. "It was just something I wanted to do for my daughter to take her out on the field with me. I didn't really get any backlash from the league."
  • In other words, no fines, and so all of a sudden there was an avenue for Heyward. Since the Leah Still story touched so many hearts and the accompanying attention paid to the issue led to such an outpouring of support and contributions, the NFL didn't dare get in the way by fining the sick child's father for paying tribute to her. If it's OK to alter the uniform for breast cancer and to honor a child fighting pediatric cancer, then why not allow a son to honor his father who had died from brain cancer?
  • Heyward had a conference call with NFL officials earlier this week, and an accommodation was reached. In what Heyward referred to as a "respectful exchange," he won't write on his eye-black anymore, instead honoring his father by starting a charitable partnership with EyeBlack.com, where anyone buying "Iron Head" eye-black will be making a donation to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation, which his father was associated with before his death in 2006. The NFL also significantly reduced Heyward's fine total.
  • Anybody see the Green Bay Packers throwback uniforms last Sunday? Unattractive by current standards, and because they were blue-and-gold, not even the current team colors. Remember this when the bumblebees make their annual appearance. Throwbacks are supposed to represent an era, the way zoot suits represent the 1930s and platform shoes the 1970s. They're not supposed to be something considered fashionable by contemporary standards.
  • It's anyone's guess what the Steelers offense will look like on Sunday, on the occasion of Landry Jones' first NFL start, at Kansas City vs. the Chiefs, but the rest of the offense will return to looking more like it did when Ben Roethlisberger was at quarterback. That's primarily because Mike Vick needed to operate more on the perimeter to be successful, while Jones and Roethlisberger do what they do from the pocket.
  • Because Vick looks shorter than his listed 6-foot, he has to have lanes through the pass protection in order to make many of the same throws Roethlisberger and Jones can make simply by throwing the ball over the rush. Not having those lanes was an issue during the games Vick started, because if the ball doesn't/can't come out when it's supposed to then the whole play breaks down.
  • Mike Tomlin is no Dick Vermeil. He isn't the kind of coach to get all emotional behind a microphone over something an individual player did during a game, especially a game in October, and especially when actually what was done fell more in the category of "doing your job." And so when the media went in search of compliments for Landry Jones' quarter-and-a-half vs. Arizona, Tomlin initially was cooperative. "Like I just said, we hadn't seen Landry execute anything in a regular season stadium," was how Tomlin started to answer the first such question. "So, knowledge in a comfortable seat as a third quarterback with a clipboard in a classroom setting is one thing. Playing in a hostile situation with the game on the line is another. I give him credit for rising up."
  • The next time someone went fishing in the same waters, Tomlin said, "He made some nice plays. He's a professional quarterback. We're not going to throw a pep rally or a party because of it. He did what was expected. He needs to continue to work and prepare this week and deliver some plays."
  • The next question was about Jones changing a play with a hand signal to Antonio Brown that resulted in a 23-yard completion. "The guy's a professional quarterback. He's logged more snaps than anybody in the history of preseason football. My son's JV quarterback does that."
  • In professional sports, there are many more men in power who take Tomlin's tack as opposed to Vermeil's. There's not a lot of room for feel-good sentimentality, especially in the middle of a season.
  • The harshest example I ever witnessed along these lines came when Eddie DeBartolo Jr. spoke at a news conference called to announce the firing of then Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Eddie Johnston in 1988. At the time, the DeBartolos owned both the NHL Penguins and the NFL 49ers. After the announcement of Johnston's firing, DeBartolo Jr. took questions, and he was asked if he didn't believe Johnson deserved a chance to see the team he assembled grow together after drafting Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick in the 1984 NHL Draft.
  • DeBartolo leaned into the microphone and said, "It didn't take a rocket scientist to draft Mario Lemieux."
  • Got an email yesterday from a guy named Don Povia of Excel Sports Management in New York City, and he was offering the services of orthopedic surgeons from Hospital for Special Surgery, which he describes as "the official hospital and team physicians for professional sports teams including the New York Giants," and what he offered was "expert medical comment on (Ben Roethlisberger's) injury, including, but not limited to: treatment/recovery of knee injuries; prevalence of MCL injuries in football; and long-term implications of rushing a return."
  • Just one thing: none of these orthopedic surgeons really knows anything about Ben Roethlisberger's injury because none of them actually ever examined Roethlisberger or anything that, you know, is sort of required to be able to speak on his particular medical situation.
  • Or so you'd think.
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