I’m Richard Sherman. I’m a guy who plays cornerback for the Seahawks, who makes $550,000 a year to control a small sliver of one of 32 NFL fields on any given Sunday. But let’s imagine, for a moment, I’m a much more powerful man, one who earns a salary—$30 million—higher than the best-paid player in the league. I’m the man who, for better or worse, holds the future of pro football in his palm.
I’m the commissioner of the NFL.
It’s a difficult job, I’m sure, working for the owners while looking out for the welfare of the players. It always seems like a happy balance is being struck in late April, when a parade of draftees crosses the stage at Radio City Music Hall, each one giving Roger Goodell a handshake and a hug after his name is called. But for the rest of the year it’s clear that the interests of the 1,700 players pale in importance to those of the 32 owners.
But I, Commissioner Sherman, am here to fix that, so let’s get started.
The first thing I would do is give up some of my power. I’d leave the whole fine system for on-field actions to a committee of former players and former coaches. I’d create a system of checks and balances, something like a democracy. (Crazy, right?)
If I were commissioner, I’d listen to Brandon Meriweather because he’s expressed something that many players think but are afraid to say. When the Redskins safety said he was going to start targeting the ACLs of offensive players, his message was understood by his peers but confusing to fans and media. The defenseless-receiver rule is forcing tacklers to target knees. Offensive players bend down to protect their knees, and if we target the waist, we collide with their heads and get fined. If we target the knees, we don’t get fined, and sometimes they don’t get up.
If I were commissioner, I’d listen to Hamza Abdullah, too. He’s the former pro who just blasted the league on Twitter for several things, including its handling of retiree benefits. I’d streamline the system to make it easier for players who need disability money to get it. Many ex-players would rather suffer than jump through the NFL’s hoops. They have to file paperwork, wait several months, go see this doctor on this day, a specialist on that day, and if they miss a deadline, they’re ineligible. That’s just how the league is, but not the way it has to be.
If I were commissioner, I wouldn’t ask a player to take a pay cut to play for a championship. Players are now paid postseason bonuses that are usually less than their standard regular-season game check. The compensation should consistently mirror the profits, regular season or not.
If I were commissioner, I’d be very transparent about where fines end up. In my regime all the money from helmet-to-helmet fines would go directly to fund treatment for players suffering from injuries from head trauma.
If I were commissioner, I’d give the players back their individuality. I wouldn’t pretend that knee and thigh pads prevent injuries. I’d never fine players for wearing the wrong length socks or cleats with too much or too little of one team color. I’d let them wear whatever they want for interviews at their own lockers. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch would be free to promote his Beast Mode merchandise—which supports his charity—in any way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t do it during a game. I’d understand that this league is not all about “the Shield” and all the name brands this commissioner has sold it to. The NFL is nothing without the players, individuals whose creativity should be celebrated.
If I were commissioner, I’d actually care about my players. I’d recognize that most of them don’t spend more than three years in the NFL, and when they’re done, many of them are broken in mind and body, and I’d do everything I could to genuinely help them in their transition from athlete to retiree.
And if that were too difficult, if I found it was impossible to do the job asked of me by NFL owners and still do right by players, I’d do those incoming rookies the favor of not offering a hug they’ll soon regret.