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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


The NFL doesn’t seem to understand that words matter

A GRIP ON SPORTS • We are going to respectfully disagree with the NFL this morning. And we are going to do it on a playing field where we have a little more experience. Read on.


• Words matter. That phrase has been seared into my brain since I was a little tyke in rolled up jeans. Words matter. We elect presidents – and impeach them – based on their use of them. Words matter. Precision in expressing oneself marks the difference between man and beasts, or something like that. My father worked in newspapers, though not on the editorial side. However, he was as much a wordsmith as Jim Murray, who he worshiped, or Red Smith, who he grudgingly admired – he was a New Yorker and all that implies, something my dad found distasteful due to the city being the home of the Yankees. And my father was the first person to ever say to me, “words matter.” He was also the first person I ever knew who memorized the baseball rulebook so, when he argued with an umpire on a rule interpretation, he could parse the rule into each individual element in an attempt to prevail in his point of view. Which brings us to Monday night’s fiasco. And my disagreement with Mr. Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. Mr. Blandino has a lot more experience with officiating than I do. A lot more. We concede that point, willingly. But we have a lot more experience with words than Mr. Blandino. We’ve been using them and refining our use of them for more than 50 years. And it’s in this arena we will disagree with him. To whit, the use of the word “bat.” Here is the NFL’s rule Mr. Blandino says K.J. Wright violated:




It is an illegal bat if:

(a) any player bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent’s goal line

(b) any player bats or punches a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone

(c) an offensive player bats a backward pass in flight toward his opponent’s goal line

The emphasis added is mine. And here is why:

Definition of “bat”

1:  a stout solid stick: club

2:  a sharp blow: stroke

Again the emphasis added is mine. By Webster's definition, the act of batting a ball means it is hit sharply. That’s not nitpicking, that’s just the definition. Words matter. There are other words that could have been used in the NFL’s rule. Words like “pushes” or “pokes” or “prods,” words that would have connoted a less violent action. But the rulemakers chose “bats” and “punches,” words with an active and forceful connotation. Words matter. Why in this case? Because it seems obvious they wanted to exempt less-than-forceful actions. (There are legal bats as well, including when a pass defender bats the ball away from a receiver or when Kam Chancellor bats the ball away from Calvin Johnson on the goal line.)

• Which brings us back to Monday night. Watch Wright hit the ball. Did he take a swing at the ball? No. Is there a forcefulness to his action? No. Wright taps the ball toward the back of the end zone and out. It’s almost tender. Did he make contact with the ball and help it exit the field of play? Yes and yes. If that’s what the NFL feels is an illegal bat, then freaking say so in the rule. Change the wording. Add “push” and/or “tap” to the rule. Or define bat in a clear manner, quite possibly different than the dictionary does. Maybe it is an action that changes the flight of the ball in any way. Or maybe it is any deliberate act designed to make the ball inaccessible to other players. Words matter. Maybe this is why no one knew the rule. And maybe, just maybe, the official on the spot didn’t believe Wright “batted” the ball because, you know, by the dictionary definition of the word, Wright didn’t. The NFL may have another definition. A super secret one the organization only shares with those who know the correct handshake. Whatever. A federal judge just threw the league under the bus – we are using that phrase figuratively, not literally – recently mainly because the league was imprecise in its dealings with one Tom Brady. You would think the message would sink in. The NFL may say it can define words anyway it wants. But no, it can’t. Words matter. They belong to all of us. They are what define us, what helps us communicate on a level plain, what keeps our society working together. Precision is important. Once again, the NFL doesn’t get it. It doesn’t seem to understand words matter.


• WSU: I love Wednesday mornings. There are notebooks galore on the Pac-12. Jacob Thorpe has one – hey, it turns out I was actually right about the play clock screw up at the end of the game – as well as his usual practice report which includes video from interviews with Mike Leach and Joe Salave’a afterward. He also has his morning report with links and power rankings. ... With Oregon on the schedule this week there are quite a few stories from Eugene with Washington State interest. ... And, most importantly, there are a notebooks from up and down the West Coast focusing on what is going on in the conference, including who is playing well and who isn’t. ... The WSU soccer team is being offensive. In a good way.

• Gonzaga: I do believe this is the first time since Adam Morrison was around a Gonzaga player is the preseason player of the year, even if it is only CBS Sports’ preseason player of the year. Yep, Kyle Wiltjer has that distinction.

• EWU: The Eagles face Cal Poly and its triple option offense this Saturday. Jim Allen has a story on how Eastern is planning to defend it. ... Southern Utah is having trouble processing the loss of its offensive coordinator.

• Whitworth: The Pirates’ soccer team is ranked third in the nation.

• Chiefs: Spokane picked up a 3-1 win last night in Victoria.

• Shock: The IFL schedule will include a lot of return engagements with the same teams. Jim Meehan has more in this story.

• Preps: Remember Jerry Kramer (No. 64 at left)? You have to be of a certain age I guess, but his block is an image I’ll never forget. It’s sort of on an internal instant replay loop in my head. Greg Lee has a story on Sandpoint’s plans to honor its native son. ... CV handed U-High its first GSL volleyball defeat last night. That’s part of our roundup.

• Seahawks: Let’s move past the problem with the end zone play (pictured again at left) against the Lions and move forward to another more pressing problem: the Hawks’ offensive line. Man, there is some fixes needed there or Russell Wilson won’t survive the season. Or he’ll continue to turn the ball over.

• Mariners: A 2-9 homestand in May might not crush some teams’ pennant hopes but it sure did the M’s this season.

• Sounders: What a fun weekend the Sounders had, though one more goal against Los Angeles would have made it even better. However, Chad Barrett’s improbable goal led to a great story from Sigi Schmid. ... It also kept the Sounders in their spot in the MLS hierarchy – and playoff chase.


• OK, I know I’m acting like your 9th grade English teacher, but, heck, she was right. Words do matter. Until later ...

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