Well, we’ve heard more from San Francisco 49ers’ owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke about why they parted ways with coach Jim Harbaugh. Which is not the same as saying we’ve learned more about what happened.
There was talk at the Dec. 29 press conference about “philosophical discussions,” which usually refer to differences on the field. Here, however, those differences seemed to have centered on what happened off it.
The Niners had six men who were arrested 10 times – six men, 10 times. Here’s York on that – sort of:
“The NFL is made up of players that have mixtures of personality. We need to find a way to get to the guys that are potentially on the edge, that have the ability to really be good guys . . . And that's when you get to the teacher to make sure that you find a way to reach those guys instead of going to the other side, keeping them on the side of the road that fits with our core values."
Uh-huh. What does this mean? If you’re the owner of a team and one of your players misbehaves, it’s on you to call him out and discipline him. If York was unhappy with Harbaugh letting defensive linesman Ray McDonald play while he was being investigated for domestic abuse – he was cleared but subsequently waived after a rape investigation surfaced – then he should’ve called Harbaugh on it and overruled him. York owns the team. The buck stops with him.
But the NFL wants to have it both ways. It wants to win, which means fielding the best teams. If a talented player happens to be violent on or off the field, it doesn’t matter, because, hey, there are games and fortunes at stake. Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended one game without pay for stepping on rival Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ injured left leg in the fourth quarter of their game Dec. 28. (Suh said his feet were numb to go along with his numb head.) But wait a minute, he won his appeal just in time to help the Lions against the Dallas Cowboys in the Jan. 4 wild card game.
Suh stepped on the arm of then-Packers’ lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2011 (two-game suspension) and has been fined seven times. But he won’t be missing a playoff game, because basically the NFL doesn’t give a damn about violence on the field (and if it doesn’t care about Rodgers – one of its best quarterbacks – being injured, it certainly isn’t going to care about some player’s girlfriend.)
It’s not just about winning, although that’s part of it. It’s that as I discuss in my upcoming football novel “The Penalty for Holding,” violence is integral to the sport.
The NFL could no more shed its violent nature than a person could shed his skin.