Every time I think I've heard it all, something pops up that makes me stop and say, "Wow, this one really takes the cake!" Here is the latest example: the NFL's response to the altercation between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz following the 49ers' victory over the Lions in Week Six:
"Fortunately, there was no fighting and thus no basis for a fine," Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications, tweeted the Monday after the game. "However, both coaches told (NFL executive VP) Ray Anderson today that their postgame conduct was wrong and will not happen again. We believe their response is the correct one and that their postgame conduct going forward will be more appropriate."
Let's not shoot the messenger here. Obviously, Aiello is just doing his job, conveying the league's position. But is it really that simple? There was no fight, so there's no fine, and each of the coaches saying "My bad" puts this one to bed.
If so, why were these fines issued following the NFL's sixth weekend of games? Green Bay's A.J. Hawk was fined $10,000 for flipping the bird at his own bench. His teammates, Clay Matthews and Tramon Williams, were each fined $5,000 for wearing "nonconforming shoes" with their throwback uniforms. In Houston, DE Antonio Smith was fined $7,500 for pulling off the helmet of Baltimore's Andre Gurode, and the Ravens' Matt Birk was fined $5,000 for removing a microphone from his shoulder pads that the league requires either a center or guard on each team to wear. Birk said the mike was jabbing him in the neck. Now I'm just jilly-jacking here, but would any of you guess those microphones are there to promote player safety or to help the league monetize NFL Network and NFL Films?
To be clear, there was no fighting in any of those incidents, either — although something resembling a bad baseball fight did ensue after Gurode's helmet came off — but still each of those players was told to pay big bucks to the piper.
It gets better. Steelers All-Pro safety and AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu was fined $10,000 for making a call on a cell phone from the Steelers' bench. NFL rules prohibit the use of cell phones on NFL fields before or during games. Makes sense, I guess, if you're worried about players calling their bookies or sharing inside information with unsavory types who might be involved in gambling. But in this case, Polamalu had borrowed the phone from a team doctor to talk to his wife after suffering concussion-like symptoms. Apparently the NFL powers-that-be felt Polamalu must have fought the doc for the phone.
Harbaugh and Schwartz are two of my favorite young coaches in the NFL. Full disclosure: The 49ers' Jim is a friend of mine, and personally I am pleased for him that he won't be forced to open a wallet that he's never been that fond of opening. I'm not saying he's cheap — he's actually one of the more generous guys I know — but you should have seen him whenever the team plane landed and he was on the wrong side of evening up for a card game. Talk about competitive — Harbaugh is capable of too firm a handshake after beating his son to the cookie jar for the last Oreo! But I digress. As much as I love these two guys, not fining them is about the most absurd thing I've ever heard.
For that one moment, these two NFL coaches acted like a couple of childish bullies on the playground. Both were completely out of control, and the turmoil that ensued boiled over into a very dangerous situation by the time it reached the tunnel leading off the field, with a number of players becoming involved.
One of the catchphrases of the Roger Goodell era in pro football is "personal conduct policy," which applies to wearing the right shoes and keeping your hat on at all times if you're a player. Are we to believe it's a players-only rule and coaches can act as boorish and unprofessionally as they choose, right in the middle of the field for the whole world to see? Or is it just that when it comes to NFL personnel other than players, "personal conduct policy" means anything goes, short of knives and guns?