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Ryan Clark, Sean Taylor Tributes and the NFL

Goodell believes the NFL is all about collective action, which is surprising given his individual flair. (By David Duprey - AP)

Last week, several blogs offered their opinions on former Redskins safety and close Sean Taylor friend Ryan Clark being docked $5,000 by the NFL for honoring Taylor by etching "21" in his eye black. Believe it or not, some fans saw this not as preserving the uniform purity of our Sunday gridiron obession, keeping it free of nettlesome and barely visible displays of friendship, and instead as some sort of indefensible tone-deaf corporate idiocy. See here ("the NFL may continue fining him for it, as it should if it wants to die of gonorrhea and rot in hell"), here ("classless and stupid"), here ("assault on common sense and decency"), here ("the NFL has completely lost touch with reality"), and here ("hopefully, that will teach Clark, and all of us, a valuable lesson about paying tribute to our murdered friends").

Anyhow, I was chatting with LaVar Arrington about all this this during the ESPN Chalk Talk lunch on Monday. Roger Goodell was also at the luncheon. LaVar sensibly suggested I ask the commissioner about the Clark fine, so I did.

"I don't know the specifics of it because I don't do [fines] on a daily basis, but we don't allow personal messages," Goodell told me. "And everybody has an interest, everybody has something that's a good cause. But we're a team game, and we represent the NFL. So when we do something, as we did last year with Sean Taylor, we do it collectively."

I asked what was wrong with personalized messages. "Because everybody has their own individual causes," Goodell said. "This is a national platform. This is the NFL's platform, and all of its clubs'. We do things collectively. That's what the game of football is all about."

The problem is, the people who play the game of football are individuals, many of whom have known tragedy, are one play away from no longer being part of the collective, and desire some sort of personalized inspiration while on the field. Something I've seen from athletes playing all sorts of sports at all sorts of levels, incidentally.

"That's nitpicking, but it's a nitpick league, you know?" LaVar said, concerning the Clark fine. "So you've got to find a way to do it. Like I used to put stuff on my [wrist] tape, I'd write it on my tape. Any type of message. Sometimes I needed to write 'The Lord is my shepherd.' You know? Sometimes I'd write whole paragraphs, like 'I will fear no evil,' stuff like that. Sometimes you need that reminder."

And it turns out that many players write little messages on their athletic tape, which goes on just before games and comes off right after games and is apparently hard to detect for the NFL collectivity czars.

"I usually just draw something where they can't see it, like if I'm wearing tape right here I'll do it," Fred Smoot told me, also pointing to his wrist. "Is that offending somebody? As long as it ain't a cuss word or a gang....I'm gonna tell you what people put right here: their kids' names, their mama name, their grandmama name, or somebody that passed. Other than that, people don't waste their time. You know, so it's always gonna be something symbolic."

I asked Smoot whether he also pays tribute to Taylor, with whom he was close. "I always do," Smoot said. "On my towel, on the back of my towel so they can't see it."

And if this gets back to the NFL and they start searching Smoot's towel for rogue tributes to deceased friends...well, that might be the day I give up blogging. Anyhow, I did ask Smoot specifically about the Clark fine, and he was none too pleased.

"That ain't right," Smoot said. "C'mon man. That man played with Sean. They had a nice bond. Sometimes I think they're worried about all the wrong [stuff]. If you really want to do something, stop everybody from using steroids that's using steroids, instead of worrying about how the hell I'm dressed when I walk out there and play. You know what I'm saying? Worry about stuff that count, like people getting paralyzed. Continue to take care of them, instead of leaving them alone as soon as they out the damn NFL. Worry about something that really count, instead of the stuff that don't matter. That's something they good about doing."

Smoot has, of course, run afoul of the uniform folks in the past, and my colleague Jason La Canfora reported that LaRon Landry and Smoot could be in line for fines because of wearing the wrong socks. We're talking about socks?

"I won't be back this week, but next week when I make it back I should have a big envelope in here," Smoot said, gesturing to his locker. "We can't have no, what am I looking for, expression of individuality or anything....It's just like they want to start fining us if we don't [tuck] our jersey in after every play. We're playing FOOTBALL, man. Are you serious? you want me to be out here dressed like a damn nerd, tucked in, for four quarters of football? C'mon. It's just not gonna happen."

Many of you have also speculated whether Carlos Rogers would be fined for the spectacularly gold cleats that he wore on Monday; "I think if I kept it gold all the way I would have got fined," Rogers said, but instead he wrapped about half the shoes in black tape in order to prevent the fine. He said he's done that in the past, and has avoided the shoe fine. Smoot does the same with his maroon cleats.

So to summarize: the NFL does things collectively, but until further notice it's possible to conform with this collectivity by covertly writing messages to dead relatives on your athletic tape, or by wearing interesting shoes and then covering them up with more tape. And only thus, will the world be safe from the dangerous scourge of the free expression of ideas. It's for the children, you know.

By Dan Steinberg  |  November 7, 2008; 11:14 AM ET
Categories:  NFL , Redskins  
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Next: Moss's Hammy, Rogers's Hands, Broken Brains


The NFL is out of its mind. Forget the hindrance of expression, they are missing major opportunities for marketing and ground roots connectivity with fans.

If Snyder wants to draw dollar signs in his eyeglasses, then he should have that right.

Posted by: StetSportsBlog | November 7, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Roger Goodell seems to be taking leadership lessons from Kim Jong Il

Posted by: ChimpanzeeRage | November 7, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

i understand that the NFL doesnt want guys altering their uni's cause you can see that getting out of control quickly. but we're talking about EYE BLACK. something i bet nobody besides ryan clark and the guy he was covering could actually see. i mean, EYE BLACK. please. i think the players association should negotiate the ability to have a patch on their uniforms where the players can write whatever they want. let em sell advertising on it like race car drivers. as long as it doesn't cover up the NFL shield or reebok of course.

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | November 7, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

We should start calling this guy Roger BADell... am I right? Am I right?


Posted by: NateinthePDX | November 7, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Or use Lebatard's name for him... "Fidel Goodell." And since Dan is Cuban and lives im miami, that's no small insult.

Posted by: metatext | November 7, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

I've seen and heard most of what was in this post many times before, but each time it is more and more upsetting and depressing. As much as I like the game, things like this make me hate the league.

Posted by: sitruc | November 7, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

""This is a national platform. This is the NFL's platform, and all of its clubs'. We do things collectively. That's what the game of football is all about.""

Yeah, but here the tribute is by an NFL player in an NFL game for another NFL player. We've got last names on the uniforms. Heck, who's the guy who had breath-right strips in different colors? If you can't notice it during the game without a close-up shot, seems it oughta be, with standard exceptions (which Smoot lists fairly well), allowed.

Posted by: WorstSeat | November 10, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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