DANNY ONEIL

NFL’s reaction to officiating gaffe in Seahawks-Bills game shows public perception is league’s priority

Nov 8, 2016, 1:29 PM | Updated: 5:17 pm
Danny O'Neil questions the motives behind Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officiating, talking wit...
Danny O'Neil questions the motives behind Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officiating, talking with Pete Carroll after Monday night's game about a missed penalty against Richard Sherman for roughing the kicker. (AP)
(AP)

What happened Monday night exemplifies an underlying problem with not just the way the NFL is being officiated but the way the game is being governed.

This has nothing to do with a call that was made or the unnecessary roughness penalty that was overlooked. In fact, it only indirectly relates to what happened on the field in the Seahawks’ 31-25 victory over the Bills.

This is about a phone conversation coach Pete Carroll had after he spoke with his team in the locker room and before he stepped onto the podium to answer questions from reporters. It was a conversation that shows just how obsessed the NFL’s New York office is with perception and public image and all of the other things that should have way more to do with politics than what happens in a professional sporting event.

“I just talked to Dean before we came in here,” Carroll said.

That would be Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. He’s now featured in commercials that air on the league’s own network. He was interviewed on that very network after Monday night’s game. He’s got his own Twitter page with a snazzy cartoon avatar that captures him in a coach’s headset, though why he would wear one is baffling. The guy works in an office, not a football stadium.

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And Blandino’s postgame conversation with Carroll indicates just how much butt-covering has become the NFL’s specialty in everything from player discipline to the question of what is considered a catch. It’s not truly about fairness or competitiveness or anything but how something looks publicly with regard to player safety and compliance with the rule book.

Before we get into the specifics about what happened – and to be clear, the Bills have a very legitimate beef – think about what Blandino’s conversation with Carroll was intended to accomplish. It wasn’t about correcting anything going forward. There’s five days until Seattle plays again. It wasn’t about addressing a complaint, either. The Bills are the ones who took it in the shorts.

The only reason for Blandino to get on the phone with Carroll was to get everyone on the same page or on message or whatever corporate gobbledygook describes the NFL’s attempt to minimize its exposure by presenting some semblance of a consistent explanation. This is what the NFL specializes in now, creating a message that is designed to overshadow the fact that the governing officials in the league office and on the field often have no idea what they’re doing.

Here’s a verbatim transcript of what Carroll said to a question from Associated Press reporter Tim Booth.

Question: “Pete, the Bills were pretty upset about what happened at the end of the first half. What was your view of it?”

Carroll: “Yeah, that was unfortunate. Richard saw something and took a jump, and then he got a little bit out of control and he winds up rolling into the kicker. I just asked – so that you guys can know – that the way that that was dealt with, it wasn’t like you were rushing a kick. Richard felt he blocked the ball and then ran into the kicker. That’s what he felt happened. I don’t know that. I’m uncertain until we see the film. And that’s what he thought happened. Once he jumped across, they tried to blow the play dead, which makes it like an unabated rusher coming and then hitting the quarterback. Unabated guy comes and he continues and doesn’t stop at the whistle and he hits the quarterback, then that’s an unnecessary roughness situation. That’s what that became. I don’t know what they determined on the field. I just talked to Dean before we came in here so I can tell you that that’s the way that that was handled. Richard was trying to block the kick, and he was a little bit out of control – as you could tell – and it was (unfortunate). I hope the guy was OK. Wouldn’t want to hurt him at all.”

First, never has the word unabated been used more often in the history of English than it has been in the past 24 hours.

Second, the summary of the conversation between Carroll and Blandino neglects to focus on the single most important point of the play, which is when the whistle blew.

“The officials were in the process of shutting the play down,” Blandino said on the league-owned network’s postgame show. “Sherman jumped offside and he was unimpeded to the kicker, so we shut that down.”

By shutting it down, you’d presume that means the play was being whistled dead. Except it wasn’t. Sherman said he didn’t hear a whistle before diving at the ball. Carroll said he didn’t hear a whistle, either, though he admitted that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Referee Walt Anderson said after the game that the determination on the field was that Sherman couldn’t have understood the play had been blown dead.

“That’s just what it looked like to me,” Anderson said.

Here’s a video clip of the play. Listen for the whistle.

The officials made a mechanical mistake. They didn’t whistle the play dead soon enough and a player took an unnecessary hit. Is it fair to penalize Sherman for that? How about demonizing him?

Blandino’s officials didn’t do the former so he embarked upon the latter, going so far as talking to Carroll on the phone before the coach answered questions in an effort to control the public perception.

The officials certainly messed up on the field. That’s more understandable to me than their boss trying to manage the crisis like a butt-covering politician.

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NFL’s reaction to officiating gaffe in Seahawks-Bills game shows public perception is league’s priority