Double Coverage: Is the NFL getting too soft?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jeremy Green of Scouts Inc. invited me onto his ESPN Football Today podcast to debate a question on the minds of tough guys and gals everywhere: Is the NFL a "pansy" league? Officials in Bristol cut off the argument before anyone got hurt -- fines could be pending -- but this one was competitive well into the later rounds.

As Mills Lane used to say before boxing referees became softies, "Let's get it on."

Mike Sando: It is great to be here.
Jeremy Green: Is it?

Mike Sando: It is. I have always considered your show to be a pansy show, but I've got no problem coming on and taking the gloves off and hashing this out with you.

Jeremy Green: I'm going to say this. You look at what is going on in the NFL right now with big hits, guys coming across the middle, guys getting knocked out. And I say, you know what, it has become, Mike, a little bit of a pansy league from this standpoint. [NFL executive vice president of football operations] Ray Anderson, and I love Ray -- he represented my dad, Dennis Green, when he was an agent in the NFL and my father was a head coach in the NFL -- but when you have Ray Anderson ... giving out fines for players that haven't even been penalized in a game? What do they do, Mike? Do they just sit there and watch every game tape and say that's a fine even though it wasn't foul in the game?

Mike Sando: This might come as a shock to you, but the officiating is not 100 percent accurate. You go to the film and it's like if you are sitting at the blackjack table and you move like five black chips into your pocket from the guy next to you, they may not catch you right away, but the eye in the sky doesn't lie.

And I think there does have to be a line here, obviously. We can't go back and reofficiate the games. But I mean I think they are saying, 'Look, if we catch you on the surveillance video here walking out with five of those black $100 chips that aren't yours, you are going to hear about it.' And so I think that is the spirit of it. And I agree. Sometimes the execution of it is sloppy and they are over the top a little bit, but I'll give you an analogy, OK? When I grew up, there were no seat-belt laws. You didn't have to have a car seat. You could ride on daddy's lap when you were 5 years old with no protection, OK.

Jeremy Green: So mom and dad tell us.

Mike Sando: Yeah. Do I sit here and say this is a pansy generation [today]? No. It's called progress to a degree and I don't think we need to go back to leather helmets just to prove that everybody is tough.

Jeremy Green: But Mike, I don't think we have to go back to that, either. But there are so many games decided on a weekly basis and we have seen this down the stretch in terms of the NFL season and in terms of games going down the stretch. We see players getting flagged for what I would say is not illegal contact, for what I would say is not an illegal hit. And the game, Mike, the game has increased in terms of speed. We have safeties running 4.3. We have linebackers running 4.3. The speed of the game has increased and I'm not sure the officials can keep up with the speed.

Mike Sando: That might be true. The officiating issue, we can talk about that all day and we might find some common ground. I find it so self-serving for guys like -- a guy like Rodney Harrison, a great player, a tough player. The minute he retires, it's a pansy league. Well, who does that make look good? It makes Rodney look good. Like he was a big tough guy and now everyone else is a bunch of pansies.

If you go to a game and you go in the locker room and you see a Ray Lewis play, a Steve Hutchinson play, a Hines Ward play, a Patrick Willis play -- hey, these guys would line up and stare Dick Butkus in the face and not blink. To say it's a pansy league, to me, are you watching the players? Are you seeing these guys after the games? Are you seeing these guys pop their shoulders back in? Are you seeing guys play with incredible injuries? Anquan Boldin last year gets his face shattered. He misses two games!

Jeremy Green: Right.

Mike Sando: I don't think that is a pansy league.

Jeremy Green: No, I don't think it is, either, but what about the hit on Anquan Boldin?

Mike Sando: Yeah, well, the guy hit him in the mouth with the crown of his helmet. I don't have a problem putting a fine on it.

Jeremy Green: Well, but, again, I'm talking about the speed of the game, Mike. The speed of the game, when things happen instantaneously in the NFL.

Mike Sando: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I mean …

Jeremy Green: I guess my question is this to you, Mike: Is the game going to become more passive, then? Is a Troy Polamalu less instinctive? Because those are the things I look at as a scout. I look at instincts, I look at the ability to jump on the ball, I look at the ability to hit, t
he ability to tackle, the ability to wrap -- things like that, where a guy shows great instincts in making a play. Does a guy's instincts become limited because of the fact that he feels like, 'Hey, I'm going to get a $5,000 fine. I'm going to get a $10,000 fine. I might get suspended for a game.'

Mike Sando: I don't think with the great players you are talking about.

Jeremy Green: They just play?

Mike Sando: For example, last year, in the division I cover, Adrian Wilson. Did you see the hit on Trent Edwards?

Jeremy Green: Yeah.

Mike Sando: We can debate whether or not the fine was appropriate or that sort of thing. But you know what? Adrian Wilson wasn't sitting there thinking, 'A few weeks ago, they fined the guy for the Jets for hitting my guy, Boldin. I'm going to back off.' No. I mean, he ran right through him (Edwards) and let the chips fall where they may and he ended up paying a fine. But I didn't see his play change one bit. Let's face it. These fines we're talking about, a $25,000 fine would affect my lifestyle.

Jeremy Green: Mine, too.

Mike Sando: But it is not going to affect a guy who is making $1.4 (million) a year. If we got to a point where the league was ridiculous with these fines and you're fining a guy, suspending an Adrian Wilson eight games or something, then I'm with you. But I think they are just trying to find a balance so that people don't die during the games when you've got guys who are 250 pounds running the way guys who were 200 pounds ran not that long ago.

Listen to the full conversation here.