Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Media Day Recap

On a slow news day in the sports world, the Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday was the biggest sports story going and it got as much, or more attention than it usually has in years past.  It's always somewhat of a circus, both literally and figuratively.  Some reporters came dressed in costumes; one dressed in a super-hero's costume.  Selected players from both the Packers and the Steelers had individual hour interview sessions on the podium for the first media day to answer any and all questions that the reporters could muster.  Some questions focus on the game, but most are purely irrelevant blatter to generate story lines and sell papers.

Players were asked a myriad of questions and few answers raised much attention as they were the standard and uniformed responses one would expect to keep both teams laying low of potential distractions.  The players were mostly saying anything that the media couldn't make a spin story out of and hassle the players with throughout the week leading up to the big game.

Of all the questions asked and answers given by the player, there were three that were at least worthy of note...

Most relevant to the game is the question of center Maurkice Pouncey's status.  You can see my previous blog for the information on this.  In short, it was reported over the weekend by ESPN's NFL reporter, Adam Shefter, that Pouncey was out for the game according to his sources.  Pouncey has now personally refuted that report and says his chances of playing are 75%.

Less relevant to the game, and mostly unimportant to those who choose not delve in the never-ending mellow-drama that weaves it's way into anything NFL related and former quarterback, Brett Favre, was brought up in Aaron Rodgers' hour session.  Of course, reporters just had to know if the current Packers' QB had received any form of communication from his former mentor in Green Bay.  When asked if he had any communication with Favre, he simply replied, "No".  He went on to explain that he had a wonderful working relationship with Favre and that he did not expect he would hear from the former Packer legend and future Hall of Fame inductee.

Neither relevant to the Super Bowl game itself nor relevant to Brett Favre, yet still very relevant in the grand scheme of the NFL were the statements made by the usual Pittsburgh media lightning rod; the candid and outspoken Hines Ward.  Ward made the biggest headlines on the day with a report of his opinions on the NFL's seemingly contradictory approach to player safety that will be published in the upcoming issue of GQ magazine.  It wasn't his first expressed concern about the topic on the season as he has been well documented on his position on the matter, but he was never more direct than he was in this article.

In regards to the NFL's policy on helmet-to-helmet hits and their seemingly hollow position on player safety, namely concussions, Ward blasted the NFL for a disingenuous approach to both in the GQ article.

Ward says in his interview, "We don’t know what they want.  They’re so hypocritical sometimes. They came out with these new helmets that are supposed to stop concussions.  If they care so much about our safety, why don’t they mandate that we wear the new ones?  If they’re so worried about what concussions will do to us after our careers, then guarantee our insurance for life.  And if you’re going to fine me for a hit, let the money go to veteran guys to help with their medical issues.  To say the league really cares?  They don't give a fu**  about concussions.  And now they want to add on two extra games?  Are you kidding?  Come on, let’s be real.”

On media day, Ward was asked to comment further.  He offered clarification by telling reporters that he was not insensitive to concussions and noted that Aaron Rodgers had a couple of concussions this season and that he doubts Rodgers thinks about his life in ten years as a result of the injuries.  His point was that though concussions can be reduced by rules for safety, hitting in the NFL should not be over-legislated by the league and that if the league was so concerned with player safety, they wouldn't be concerned with adding more regular season games to the schedule for extra revenue.  Ward says of the money the NFL and even the players will make from the extra games, "Not all money is good money".

In relation to Ward's issues with the leagues policies on concussions and helmet-to-helmet hits, teammate James Harrison ,who was fined a grand total of $100,000 for late and illegal hits, offered some advice to the NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, personally.  Harrison stated, "Lay pillows down where I tackle them(quarterbacks) so they don’t get hurt when they hit the ground, Mr. Goodell”.

He also stated, on the NFL's prospect of expanding player safety while also trying to add two regular season games to the new collective bargaining agreement, "You know this game is a dangerous game.  If you care, why would you add two more dangerous games for a long career in a violent sport?  You’re contradicting yourself".

I personally can see where the NFL thinks it can make more money while also keeping players healthy enough to finish seasons and have long, productive careers with their new approach to cracking down on hits that are, what Commissioner Goodell called, "life-altering" hits.  The NFL thinks if they clean up some of the hard hits in the game, that they can squeeze two more regular season games out of the players while suffering minimal collateral damage and maintain low level of player injuries across the league.  It's like the new hitting policies will counteract the amount of vicious hits that the players will be subject to over a season that is a couple of games longer thus canceling each other out yet still generating more revenue.

Just because I can see the rationale for the NFL's position, doesn't mean it's not a pipe dream.  The expectation for players to be able to alter their style of play to conform to hitting policies that are simply impossible to stay within because of the speed of the game, will not save enough people from taking hard blows to justify making them play two more regular season games.  The league should not move to an 18 game season, but it looks inevitable that it will in 2012.

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