Roger Goodell and the NFL got it right.
I know those few words are impossible for most sports writers to put in black-and-white these days. Yet in telling DeAngelo Williams and Cameron Heyward that they cannot alter their uniforms to honor their parents, that's exactly what happened.
Williams asked to wear pink on his uniform all season in honor of his late mother, who died of breast cancer five years ago. The NFL said no.
Heyward wrote "Iron Head" on his eye black to honor his father who died of cancer nine years ago. The NFL fined him.
As well they should.
Sorry kids, but you can't just go wearing whatever you want on the football field. There are rules. Just like a touchdown is six points and the balls have to be properly inflated, you have to wear appropriate and approved equipment and attire.
Uniforms should be - wait for it - UNIFORM! That's the whole purpose - to have one team dressed uniformly to minimize confusion and elevate the game. Elevating the game is something the NFL has gotten pretty damn good at - despite the incessant attacks on the League, everyone just keeps watching.
Have you watched the Pro Bowl, with every player donning a different helmet? It looks ridiculous. I understand allowing it in that particularly meaningless game, but all the different helmets are distracting.
Uniforms should be uniform.
Is a pink glove here, or a pink wrist band there, during a particular month a big deal? No, of course not. A coordinated campaign like the NFL has during Breast Cancer Awareness month can accentuate players' uniforms and, yes, elevate the League. Letting players put patches and towels and gloves of all different colors and messages on their uniforms?
Imagine Thursday night's Falcons-Saints game in an NFL that allows players to dress like a patchwork quilt. Thursday was Spirit Day, during which people wear purple to support victims of bullying - so some players would wear purple wristbands and towels. Of course the NFL is wearing pink all month, so you have some pink gloves and shoes. Then you have a Falcons player whose grandmother died 18 years ago, and her favorite color was teal, so he's got a teal patch; He's an O'Lineman, so he's convinced all the lineman to wear it. One of the Saints players went to Duke, so he's got blue gloves.
And on and on and on.
Here's the stupid part of how Heyward went about the eye black: It's possible he actually could have done it had he gotten permission beforehand. NFL Rule 5.4.8 specifically opens the door to these kinds of things:
"Items to celebrate anniversaries or memorable events, or to honor or commemorate individuals, such as helmet decals, and arm bands and jersey patches on players' uniforms, are prohibited unless approved in advance by the League office."
He likely would have been told "No" on the eye black, but wearing a one-game patch on his shoulder? Maybe he could have gotten the OK. Instead he decided to just do it himself, despite the contracts he's signed and the League rules.
Frankly, he got off easy. The penalty for illegal equipment, which is what the eye black was, is for officials to bar him from entering the game. That Heyward was allowed to play at all was a generous gesture.
Williams at least went the proper route of asking permission first.
Yet forgive me if I have little sympathy for Williams' denied request. While he's allowed to wear pink during the entire month of October, that wasn't enough and he wanted to wear pink the entire season. The Steelers have four games during the month, including two prime time TV games. That wasn't enough.
I completely understand that it's never enough when we're talking about deceased parents. I get it. Yet the NFL has to draw the line somewhere. A month of wearing pink? I think that's a pretty powerful message. And frankly, Williams' alternative gesture - paying for 53 mammograms - sends a far more powerful message than a pink sock.
Yet the NFL boo-birds have been out in full force.
"They're not trying to harm anybody," ESPN senior NFL writer Jeremy Fowler said of Williams and Heyward. "Like Cam said today, ‘I'm not trying to bring publicity to myself, that was not my thought here, I was just trying to... honor my father who struggled with cancer.'"
So do you let Tim Tebow start up again with the Bible nonsense on his eye black? He's not "trying to harm anybody," right? Then we get the flood of #BlackLivesMatter on the eye black, and one guy decides to put #AllLivesMatter, and mayhem ensues.
The reaction that fans and the media have to anything the NFL does these days is like mentioning Hillary Clinton at a GOP Presidential debate. If Greg Aiello announced tomorrow that NFL medical researchers had found a cure for cancer, the general public and media response would be outrage... because the NFL didn't figure it out five years sooner.
Yet Goodell, Troy Vincent and the NFL are all thinking ahead. They got this one right.