Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy. On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com
The annual NFL meeting was held last week in Orlando. This meeting is the one time all year that owners, executives, general managers and head coaches from across the League all come together. The meeting typically involves an update from the commissioner and other League executives on the state of the League. It also normally has very healthy debate on the proposed rules changes. This year's meeting had the typical updates and rules discussions (although more subdued), but was unique in that there was very serious discussion among owners, general managers and coaches about how to improve player behavior both on the field and in the locker room.
Two of the biggest news stories in the League this year were the bullying and hazing situation with the Miami Dolphins and the possibility of Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. While these two issues helped frame the discussion in Orlando, we were really more focused on broader issues – sportsmanship on the field and respect for opponents, as well as respect more generally for teammates, officials, coaches and the game. I think there has been a sense for some time among team executives and coaches that we need to take steps to clean up the game. In recent years, we have seen an increase in fighting, pushing, shoving and taunting. Last year, the number of taunting fouls increased from nine to 34. Also, we've received comments from officials that they've seen a spike recently in abusive language among players. Moreover, given the NFL's strong status among professional and college sports, we all feel it's important to take the lead in improving the situation. NCAA officials have said this effort will be a big help to them, as their players often mimic the behavior of NFL players.
It will obviously be a challenge and it'll take time to significantly change player behavior. I'm confident, though, that we now have the attention of coaches, players and executives. The Dolphins situation was a real wake up call for coaches. For me, knowing the tremendous character of Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin, their situation served as a real lesson – if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
A highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Wade Davis, a former defensive back with the Tennessee Titans. Wade "came out" two years ago and now runs an organization called the "You Can Play Project," an advocacy organization working to eradicate homophobia in professional sports. His message is that society has changed and the NFL has to change as well. He said the NFL has a chance to get it right the first time (with Michael Sam). I'm hopeful we will get it right, and also bring respect back into the locker room and onto the field.
Now, on to your questions:
Tom from Howard, WI
What did you think about Mark Cuban's comments about the NFL – that League officials are acting like hogs and that it would implode in 10 years?
I have to admit that his comments caught me a little off guard. I don't think we should dismiss them, though. He's obviously a very smart businessman and understands professional sports. I do think we need to be cautious and careful as we make changes. The biggest risk facing the game long term is concern over the safety of the game. For this reason, safety has been a huge emphasis for the League in recent years, and the League recently announced a $45 million grant to USA Football for their "Heads Up Football" program. Boxing is a good example of a sport that dropped in popularity due to safety concerns. Overexposure on TV is also a concern. I believe Cuban's comments were directed at our new Thursday night package with CBS. As I examine this change, though, I think it was well thought out and will end up benefitting the League. The previous package was 13 games on the NFL Network, and next year's package will have a total of 16 games (half on CBS and half on the NFL Network, with two late-season Saturday games), so the increase is minimal. CBS, as the highest-rated broadcast network, will do a great job promoting the NFL. Also, CBS will produce all 16 of the games, and the arrangement should allow the NFL Network to continue to grow. So, while I respect Mark Cuban, I'm confident we will make the moves necessary to avoid imploding.
Ted from Amherst, NY
My question is about helmet safety. It seems the league has focused on trying to regulate how players use their helmets (penalizing head-to-head contact, etc.), but I have not heard much about changing the helmet to make it less of a weapon. I understand the helmet was originally designed to prevent cracking people's skulls, but the hard, rigid helmet has proven a pretty functional weapon (current focus may be on concussions, but some of us remember the days of spearing). There are obvious things that could be done to make the helmet less of a weapon (e.g., putting padding on the outside of a helmet) and some less obvious things (turning the hard part of a helmet into an articulating or partially collapsible frame so that the helmet will deform up to a point where it becomes rigid). I heard rumors of a helmet redesign program a couple of years ago, but nothing seems to have come out of it. What is the league doing about helmet design?
Great question, Ted. You're right, a big problem with the current helmets is that they are so hard that they've become a weapon. The League and helmet manufacturers have experimented with softer helmets in the past. You may remember Mark Kelso, the Buffalo Bills former safety, who wore a padded helmet. The problem with padded helmets, though, was that they wouldn't slide when they hit objects, and were more likely to cause neck injuries to players. I think both the League and helmet manufacturers will aggressively look at changes to the helmet to improve player safety. Also, the League has recently partnered with GE and Under Armour to look for ways to reduce concussions. Still, many people that I respect, including the late Joe Paterno, have said the best way to take the head out of the game and reduce concussions is to take the facemask off.
John from Ashwaubenon, WI
I see that the NFL is going to experiment by moving the extra point back to the 20-yard line for two weeks in the preseason. What do you see for the future of the extra point?
It will be very interesting to see what happens to the extra point over the next few years. As I've noted before, our kickers have become so accurate that it is almost an automatic play. In the preseason experiment, the extra point will be a 38-yard kick. In recent seasons, kickers have made 90 percent of 38-yard field goals. During our meetings in Orlando, I was surprised to see how much support there was for making changes to the extra point. The key will be to make the needed changes to make it a competitive play and require coaches to make difficult decisions on whether to go for one or two points.
Patsy from Boscobel, WI
Mark, I have heard rumors about enclosing the stadium with a roof. I sure hope this is not even a good rumor. I am a devoted Packers fan, and win or lose I will be there for the team. I wanted to share as I have met many fans when traveling all over the country. They always ask me questions when they find out I am from Wisconsin. I love talking and sharing Packers information and stories.
It's a very bad rumor. No more frozen tundra? We can't have that. Part of what makes Lambeau Field special is that we play in the elements. We have no plans to enclose the stadium with a roof.
Taylor from Franklin, WI
My question to you is this: is the new underground player parking lot going to deny fans the opportunity to wave to players and have them stop and sign autographs?
I am glad you asked this question, Taylor. I've heard from several fans who are concerned about the underground parking. First, while we will have a new player parking lot, it is not underground. The new lot will be south of the Oneida Nation Gate. The players have been using the new lot the entire offseason. The lot will have an ornamental fence rather than a chain link fence, and is designed so that our fans will be able to interact with our players.