Ryan Clark, Sean Taylor Tributes and the NFL
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.
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