FLOWERY BRANCH – Ray Anderson, the Falcons former vice president, is the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, and is charge of the crackdown on “dangerous” play.
He went on NFL Network earlier this week to explain the league’s position on the fines that were imposed against Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, New England’s Brandon Merriweather and Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson.
Anderson played football and baseball for three years at Stanford and later graduated from Harvard Law School. Before taking the job with the Falcons, he was an agent and represented a number of players and coaches, including Tony Dungy and Dennis Green.
Here’s the transcript from Anderson’s interview:
On sending a message with $175,000 worth of fines from illegal hits in Week 6:
RA: We hope are sending a message empathically that going forward hits to the head that are illegal under our existing and current rules will be dealt with at a higher level. Players and coaches need to know that accountability is elevated, and we are not going back.
On why no suspensions were issued this week:
RA: There was a lot of discussion internally about suspending players, but I think at the end of the day, we want to be fair. The notion was that if you are going to have this elevated discipline, then give players, coaches and organizations fair notice. Going forward, we want to send the message loud and clear that discipline – including fines and suspensions for multiple games for repeat offenders or flagrant and blatant violators – will be on the table so they should play and comport themselves accordingly.
On the rule protecting defenseless players:
RA: The rule is Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8. The folks who really follow this can have that in front of them. It says that we are going to protect defenseless players – not just defenseless receivers but defenseless players across the board. We have defined categories of what amounts to a defenseless player.
When it comes to head and neck injuries, we are going to be aggressive at preventing them. If the initial contact to a defenseless player is with the forearm, the shoulder or a helmet, it is illegal under the existing rules. We are going to have players understand that and coaches teach to that. Indeed we are going to enforce that and make them accountable to the letter of the law because we cannot tolerate these types of head and neck injuries in our game. We are going to be aggressive about making sure we discipline accordingly.
On specific instances involving defenseless players in Week 6:
RA: Brandon Meriweather and Dunta Robinson were first-time offenders in both cases. Granted Dunta’s case was kind of a bang-bang play, but nevertheless under the rules, it is illegal. A helmet, shoulder or forearm that ends up having helmet contact as a result is illegal under the rules so we have to enforce it.
In Meriweather’s case, there is no place for that in the NFL. It was a gratuitous shot, and some internally here would term it as a ‘cheap shot.’ It has no place in the game.
$50,000 fines for each of them as first-time offenders. That was the rationale for that.
On retroactive suspensions and fines:
RA: We won’t reach back. Going forward, the competition committee will review all these plays, and there may be some additional tweaks to the rules to further protect against head and neck injuries through these violent hits. We will not go back for players who have been fined prior to this last weekend’s games to assess discipline. What we’re trying to say very clearly going forward is that everyone should be on notice. The line should be clear. If you go over that line, you should anticipate that elevated discipline up to and including suspensions. In flagrant and egregious cases, multiple-game suspensions will be on the table.
On concerns about changing the way football is played:
RA: We are concerned about making the game safe for our players. This just isn’t about the NFL. We understand that what we do is emulated sometimes in colleges and high schools and youth and peewee leagues. We are more concerned about keeping our players safe and by example, hopefully, keeping other levels of play safe. We understand that fans want the physicality of the business. They like the physical nature of the game. What we are insisting our players do, however, is do that within the rules that are trying to make our players safe and healthy for the long term.