07/22/08 — OPINION - NFL needs to refocus

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OPINION - NFL needs to refocus

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on July 22, 2008 1:49 PM

Look no further than to NFL Europe, Super Bowls in cold weather cities and making select games only available on NFL network and it's clear to see the National Football League has had plenty of well-intended ideas that worked out as well as David Carr's stay in Carolina.

The NFL's announcement last week that it has hired experts to study game footage to determine whether players are displaying gang symbols as part of their on-field celebrations will most likely fall into that category of 'what were they thinking?' ideas.

An NFL official told the Los Angeles Times last week that the league was taking a closer look at players' hand gestures after an over-hyped incident involving the Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Following an incident with Atlanta's Al Horford, Pierce flashed what the NBA viewed as "menacing gestures" toward the Hawks' bench and was slapped with a $25,000 fine.

Pierce strongly denied that his gestures were gang related.

Under the NFL's new paranoid plan, if a league official sees a "suspicious hand gesture," he must alert the league, which will be hiring gang experts to review game tapes.

I'm not suggesting that the NFL downplay the severity of gang violence in our society. I do, however, think that overreacting to a situation that originated in another league is elevating this issue to an unnecessary level.

Football is a game predicated on hand signals. Offensive and defensive coordinators and players on both sides of the ball -- particularly quarterbacks -- rely heavily on hand signals to communicate with one another.

Also, the NFL is a league comprised of players from all over the country as well as a handful of international players. Players routinely flash symbols representing the university or college from which they graduated, along with their respective home town or state.

To suggest that every time a receiver torches a corner for a touchdown or a linebacker makes a pivotal fourth-quarter sack, a gang 'expert' better be on the lookout for a gang symbol-laced celebration is ridiculous.

We're talking about the same NFL (No Fun League) that in March contemplated a proposal that would have banned players from having hair flow beneath their names on the back of their jerseys.

Fortunately for guys like Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who doesn't cut his hair to celebrate his Samoan roots, the proposal never became a reality. It is, however, an example of a league focused way too much on policing its product and not nearly enough on capitalizing on its marketability.

The NFL has made no secret of its desire to increase its fan base globally, particularly in Europe and Mexico. The league will again stage a game in England this season, when the Chargers and Saints meet in late October at Wembley Stadium.

Yes, the NFL has had image problems in the past. Michael Vick's dog fighting scandal; Adam "Pacman" Jones' countless arrests and the Bengals' affinity for handcuffs and law enforcement have all been a black eye.

Rather than spend money policing celebrations for gang symbols that frankly I don't believe are there, the NFL needs to invest that money in educating futbol fans on the sport of football.

Until then, beware Peyton Manning. All those audibles at the line of scrimmage just might get you sent to the commissioner's office.