Wedge Issue: Replacement refs could leave scars

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Wedge Issue: Replacement refs could leave scars

At this rate, Bill Belichick is going to wind up on this week's injury report with a tongue.

How much longer will he be able to bite down and resist unleashing an expletive-laden torrent of disbelief at what's passing for professional football in 2012?

The debate over who's right between the owners and locked-out officials is moot to the men who spend each week scheming, planning and pouring their lives into trying to win on Sunday.

And it's moot to the employees underneath the coaches - the assistants and the players - from whom the head coaches demand performance and focus from under unworkable conditions.

To the coaches, the game matters. A mud-wrestle over a pension plan? Indignation over locked-out officials who've gotten too haughty and need to be shown who's boss? The brand, the brand, the brand? Expansion into Europe? An overseas game in London? Thursday night games for every team?

That's not the coach's department. The game is where it begins and ends.

So now why are they banging their heads against the wall to prepare for games that will be butchered and left to the whims of some guy whose job interview must have consisted of proving he could blow a whistle and throw a Kleenex?

The inability of the owners and officials to come to an agreement has invaded the coach's work environment and - by extension - is putting coaches jobs at risk. Sunday night's game against the Ravens was altered throughout by the replacement officials. Monday night's game between the Packers and Seahawks? Even worse.

Phantom calls beget calls that are ignored, beget retribution, beget disrespect, beget chaos.

By the end of it Sunday night, Belichick was pinwheeling around the field, clutching in vain at an official's arm while trying to get an answer to what the hell was going on.

I wouldn't want to be Robert Kraft right now. He's got the greatest coach of this generation, arguably of all-time, having to mea culpa on Monday afternoon for grabbing one of the stand-in boobs that Kraft and the other owners have put in position to make a mockery of the game.

Bill Belichick has "screw you" money and he's got "screw you" influence. And he knows that Kraft - who had the clout to bring the players and owners through last summer's lockout - could probably hasten this resolution in a hurry if he brought his considerable influence to bear on the situation.

But admitting defeat now, admitting that they underestimated the importance of the real officials (as I did until last week), is not in their DNA.

They will not be forced to acquiesce at the point of a media or fan bayonet. The owners and the league are going to iron-fist this thing, first with the officials and second with any coach or player who doesn't toe the line.

Sunday night's game between two teams that will quite likely jockey for playoff seeding and the right to host home playoff games and get to the Super Bowl was left in the hands of hall monitors.

Remember that if and when the Patriots are on the road in Baltimore or Houston in the AFC Championship game. Because you can believe Bill Belichick will.

And with millions on the line and a chance to advance the "brand" with a trip to a Super Bowl, you can bet Robert Kraft will too.

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL


Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”