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Jonathan Kraft on The Big Show: ‘I absolutely support Brandon Meriweather’

10.22.10 at 9:35 pm ET

Patriots President Jonathan Kraft joined The Big Show to talk NFL concussion policy, Brandon Meriweather‘€™s fine, and Saturday’€™s UNH/UMASS game at Gillette Stadium.

Following are some highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, visit The Big Show Audio-on-Demand page here.

What do you make of the new policies about hitting defenseless players?

Here’€™s what I do know, and here’€™s what I see is that our athletes are just superhuman in a lot of respects so the game … has gotten so much faster with guys who are so much stronger. And it’€™s just evolution. And I think we have a rule that forbids not only helmet-to-helmet contact but launching into the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver or a defenseless person on the field. It can also be on a turnover; a defensive player going into what have you, an offensive player from the side or from behind. So you are not supposed to do that. That has been in our rulebooks but I’€™m not sure it’€™s gotten’€¦; the game has evolved and as a point of emphasis it hasn’€™t been focused on the way it should be. And after a weekend we had this past weekend, I think like the league office said, ‘€˜It doesn’€™t look like people are taking the letter of the law seriously. We’€™re going to make a big statement.’

Clearly [Patriots linebacker Brandon Meriweather] Brandon’€™s hit was way outside the bounds of that rule. Brandon’€™s on our team, I absolutely support him as a member of the Patriots. And I think unlike some of the other players involved, Brandon stepped up, apologized, acknowledged he did something wrong and said we’€™re moving on and didn’€™t contemplate retirement or anything else.

There seems to be a fine line. Unfortunately it is a pretty rough game isn’€™t it?

It’€™s an extremely rough game. And I think all the League is doing is putting a renewed spotlight and emphasis on the fact that blows to the head and neck of defenseless players who are in the act of receiving or bringing the ball under control aren’€™t going to be tolerated. And 15 yards, if that’€™s what you’€™re going to get on the field the ref, at his discretion, will have the right to eject you. But then beyond that, the financial penalties are going to be severe and you can get suspended. And you know what, the players will evolve and the game won’€™t change. The game will be better because the players will be healthier. With all the rule changes that have happened, this is a rule, it’€™s not something new that’€™s happening midseason. This is a rule that was on the books at the start of the year. It’€™s sort of like we took the wedge out of the kick return game. You were no longer allowed to have a wedge of more than two people. I think people thought that was going to hurt the return game. And I don’€™t have the exact statistics, but we might be having through the first six weeks of the season the most return yardage on kickoffs that we’€™ve had in over two decades. So I think teams adjust and I think players will adjust and it’€™s about making out game better. I get why guys who played decades ago who know what they did and how they did it have some kind of visceral reaction to it. But this is the right thing and my guess is the game will be better for it.

Did the NFL overreact?

It’€™s a good question. I think we didn’€™t overreact because there’€™s a rule that’€™s on the books that clearly not enough players were paying attention to. And so what the League basically said by all of that happening at once, there wasn’€™t just an outlier occurrence. This wasn’€™t like it was just one incident. The League said, ‘€˜Look, this is serious, the national spotlight is on our game. People are watching in record numbers.’€™ The league basically said, ‘€˜One aberration, you don’€™t like that but you get it. But when a number of things happen all at once, we have to make sure people have to understand that we’€™re dead serious about this.’€™ And that’€™s all that Ray Anderson and the league office did was say, ‘€˜We’€™re not going to tolerate this, guys. And understand that this is a rule, and people can’€™t thumb their noses at it.’€™

The officials explained to the media about the launching rule and defenseless receiver. How do you establish who’€™s defenseless vs. who can turtle? Do you think Roger Goodell and Ray Anderson would have a situation with a cataclysmic hit in playoffs that could merit suspension?

I don’€™t think the Commissioner would hesitate from doing it if it was the rule of the game. You would say that the rule of the game is above any one situation and there’€™s no difference between a preseason game and an AFC Championship Game for implementing. The Commissioner, since the day he got the job and while he was in the process of interviewing for the job, said the integrity of the game and the welfare of our players is above all else. I think he’€™s backed those words up with how he’€™s acted and I think that’€™s why last weekend was so disturbing to him, because we have done a lot with the rules in his term to make the game safer. And to see a number of incidents happen in such a short period of time wasn’€™t something that the League wanted to see happen and that’€™s why, not only was it defined to the players, but each club yesterday or two days ago, I guess we got it yesterday, we each received a video from the league. We each received a video and a letter. The letter needed to be read by the head coach to the players again explaining what exactly the rule is and what the consequences were for not paying attention to it, and to make sure there was no misunderstanding a video where there were a number of different plays from slow motion and different angles. Explain to the players what was allowed and what wasn’€™t allowed. Now everybody is completely on notice.

A video example of illegal is the Meriweather hit. What about a Ray Lewis shoulder to midsection? How can we avoid creating timidity in players on defense?

On the Brandon part, Brandon’€™s a professional. I’€™m sure he’€™ll adapt and adjust in a way that he thinks is right for him. He understands he broke a rule and there were consequences. At the same time, he accepted what happened like a man. He didn’€™t argue it, he didn’€™t bemoan it. He understood he did something wrong. He’€™s going to pay a huge fine for it. Nowhere near as close if he had permanently injured someone. It can never be apples for apples. He’€™s going to move on and we’€™re very happy he’€™s a part of our franchise. That’€™s part of the kind of person he is.

To Glenn’€™s point, the game moves so fast, the players will just have to adjust when they’€™re going into the act of trying to tackle somebody. They are going to have to adjust their target point in a way that they know that they have a margin for error. That’€™s no different today than it was at the start of the season but not enough people paid attention to it. Look, there are four instances from last weekend that people are pointing the finger at, think about how many thousands of plays happened in the League last weekend. So we’€™re still talking about a relatively small percentage and we just want to make sure that those that did fall outside the bounds of what’s proper are put back. I personally don’€™t think it’€™s going to change the game that much or really at all in a noticeable way to the people watching at home.

But if it does, if that’€™s the price for player safety, then that’€™s the right decision. But I don’€™t think it will.

The best hit in Sunday’€™s game was Chung in end zone; he didn’€™t launch on a defenseless player. It was an awesome hit:

To your point, there was some discussion earlier in the week about devastating hits and what that meant and I don’€™t think it was written. Devastating legal hits are still very much a part of the game but we want you to try to separate the ball from the receiver by putting your shoulder into the ball and the arm where he has it or into his midsection and doing it like that and not attacking another player’€™s head or neck.

It seems like everything is geared positively to the offense. What about the running back? I don’€™t see any of these rules now also including the offensive players. Is any of this going to be applied to the offensive players?

We don’€™t look at making rules changes in a way where we say we need to make these changes to be good for the offense or the defense. We say we need to make changes when the changes are made and by the way, there are usually tweaks after literally months and months of study by the Competition Committee and then present it to the whole ownership. We make those changes when the majority of the 32 [NFL owners] feel like it will be good for the game, and not for one side of the ball or the other but the collective. And I think it’€™s important to point that out. In terms of how it’€™s going to be called and things we might think of doing on the offensive side of the ball, I am not on the competition committee and fortunately, I don’€™t have to interact with the officials other than maybe shaking their hand before a game. I’€™m going to let the people that do that do that side of it.

Could this be handled differently? Every game you watch, the broadcasting crew is going to make a bigger deal out of every hit. Could the NFL have done emphasis on rules privately?

I don’€™t think there’€™s anything private and behind closed doors that involves the whole NFL. You’€™re talking about almost 1600 players, lots of whom are tweeting these days and 32 head coaches. The league is too visible and everything that goes on in the league nowadays, it’€™s really unbelievable to watch. We’€™re so fortunate so many people care so much. A big part of the Commissioner has said ultimately it’€™s our fans’ game and he’€™s going to let people know what we’€™re doing and why we’€™re doing it. And again, we didn’€™t change the rules. The rules are the rules. You didn’€™t hear anyone saying this weekend that calls were made incorrectly or anything of that sort. What you heard was too many players were almost disregarding what the rules were and the league wanted to let people know, that this new rule, that was further clarified the past offseason, about the neck and head area were something we are incredibly serious about. And we took the opportunity in Week 6 at the league office to say, ‘€˜Guys, here are the consequences. Don’€™t do it.’€™ I think that’€™s a positive statement.

Hopefully one of the things with the visible nature, I’€™ve coached youth football. Hopefully a lot of this starts to trickle down, too. And we have an obligation. Head injuries in general, not just in football, but in general has been a much bigger part of the country’s consciousness. Hopefully when young athletes and high school coaches and youth coaches see this, they start to understand how serious and how important it is and if we can raise a generation of athletes that grow up this way, the point that Steve made of players playing the game a certain way, then we’€™ll change the whole culture.

I’€™m not trying to make this the American flag and apple pie. I do think we have a responsibility and an obligation like that. Because the head injuries are a serious thing and a lot of them can be prevented. We, the league, are trying to invest millions of dollars trying to get better equipment developed. We’€™re going to continue to evolve the rules of our game to make sure that the players are better protected.

On UNH/UMass game tomorrow at Gillette:

I think we’€™re 25, 26, somewhere in there thousands. $25 bucks and free parking. It’€™s UMASS, its UNH. It’€™s two teams that are ranked in the top 25. It’€™s going to be a lot of fun. We’€™ve never had college football in Gillette so this will be the first college football game but its it’€™s also a chance for people who don’€™t normally get a chance to come to Gillette to see football because we understand tickets aren’€™t always easily available for Patriots games and they’€™re much more expensive than $25.

Read More: Brandon Meriweather, Concussions, Jonathan Kraft, NFL Policy



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