If there’s one thing you set your clock to every NFL season, it’s the Steelers being at the forefront of some type of controversy with the league. Usually it’s the defense and one of the more common names that comes to mind is safety Ryan Clark.
It’s not that Clark goes looking for trouble (at least not all the time) but it seems to find him. This past weekend he stirred the pot of the league offices after calling out Referee Bill Leavy and his officiating team for possibly singling him out before the Giants game at MetLife Stadium this past Sunday.
“I thought I did the right thing,” Clark told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought I hit him in the ribs. I tried to get my head to the side, tried to obey the rules as they’ve been laid out to me. I think referees have meetings about me before the game. I think anytime they see ’25’ flash and a hit be made, there’s going to be an opportunity for me to get a flag.”
It’s nothing new for officials to single out certain players before a game each week. Perhaps it’s an offensive lineman that is known for holding, or a defensive back that has a reputation for pass interference. Any number of things can trigger an extra mental note for the guys in stripes on game day, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s used in the right way.
The problem is that those decisions should be made behind closed doors, before the game starts. There’s no reason to talk about players while they are within ear shot of the conversation. If nothing else you open yourself up to all types of unneeded criticism and in my opinion it’s just unethical. As an employer, you don’t talk about personnel issues in the break room right? The same premise applies here even if the circumstances are different.
Anyway, we would be foolish if we didn’t think that someone like James Harrison is also on the short list of Steelers players for the league. In fact I’d venture an educated guess that anyone who’s been fined by the league for some type of hit or anyone who’s called out the league on any issue is part of some master watch list. Maybe I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist but you’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise that such things don’t go on.
So for what it’s worth, I agree with Ryan Clark that he’s more likely to get flagged when he makes anything close to a questionable hit. Based on his type of play over the years, and the NFL’s never ending quest to change the league into a more politically correct, soccer mom friendly sport, it’s more obvious than ever that throw back players like Clark are targeted by the league.
So what is the “right way” for officials to use their short lists on gameday? Use it an evaluation tool, to watch for potential rule violations but take each situation at face value and evaluate it for what it is at that time. Fouls should not be thrown simply based on reputation, which is exactly what happened on the Victor Cruz hit in the 2nd quarter this past Sunday.
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