A conversation with George McCaskey, Part II
Bears chairman of the board George McCaskey talked with Dan about a number of topics this week. In Part I, he discussed the state of the Bears. This is Part II.
DP: Is there a model organization for the Bears?
GM: Our goal is to be a model organization for others. Coincidentally, I admire the other so-called family-run teams—the Giants, Steelers and Cardinals. We go back a long way with all three of those families. I especially admire the Giants and the job John [Mara] has done, being a flagship franchise dating back to the 1920s. He’s third generation, part of a big family. The way the Giants conduct business on the field and off is worthy of modeling.
DP: You are a big Cubs fan. Are there lessons to be learned from what the Cubs have done?
GM: I admire Tom Ricketts. He’s done a great job. I think he’s good for Chicago sports. He went out and got the right guy in Theo Epstein, and he got the right guy in Joe Maddon. They developed their team. It’s different in football than baseball. In football, I don’t want to say it’s easier, but it’s simpler to have a quick turnaround. The Cubs had to be very patient through three seasons at 100 losses or near 100 losses. I was very happy for Tom to put on the postseason cap and T-shirt and get doused with champagne.
DP: Your family has roots in the infancy of the NFL. How concerned are you about its future, given the safety problems?
GM: I think we need to be concerned and be proactive to assure the future of the game. We are working on it.
DP: The concussion phenomenon seems to be somewhat recent. We are hearing about a lot of problems in former athletes now that we weren’t hearing about 20 and 30 years ago. Why is that?
GM: There is greater awareness now. The education is evolving. When I was in high school, I was a backup linebacker. We had a tackling drill every day. We were instructed by a good coach to shed the blocker, and when you come upon the ballcarrier, you drive the crown of your helmet into his sternum. Wrap your arms around his back and put him into the ground. Now we are seeing efforts to take the head out of the tackle. That’s good for the game.
DP: Many former Bears—players like Bill Wade, Jim McMahon, Dave Duerson and Erik Kramer--are suffering or have suffered as a result of head injuries. How troubling is that?
GM: You want the best for your players when they are playing in their post-career. The more education we have, the better. That’s why the NFL is making a donation to the National Institute of Health, to research these issues and get reliable independent information so we improve our game. We need to keep it at the forefront. No matter what you are doing, we can do more. When you see rules changes at our level, I think you will see better rules and better rule enforcement and the college, high school and youth levels. They also are working on certification for coaches. I think that’s a big step forward.
DP: You are an official in youth baseball, soccer and other sports. Do you think officiating in the NFL has been worse this year?
GM: No. I think there is a tremendous potential for bias when you are talking about officiating and your team came up short. It’s too easy to point to a third party.
DP: Would you like to see any changes in officiating like full time officials, more replay or simplified rules?
GM: As it relates to safety, there have been 40-some rules changes. I’d rather see the emphasis continue to be on that rather than worrying about a minor infraction.
DP: The NFL is planning on more international games in the future. How would you feel about giving up a home game to play internationally?
GM: We wouldn’t be happy about it and we wouldn’t go willingly. Our fans want home games at Soldier Field. It would be difficult to convince us that giving up a home game is a good idea.
DP: What are your thoughts on having an 18-game regular season and two-game preseason?
GM: When you talk about shortening the preseason, coaches talk about scheduling more scrimmages. So if the idea is less contact, I’m not sure shortening the preseason would be a good idea. I do agree with the commissioner that something needs to be done about preseason, shortening it or improving the quality of play. I don’t know what the solution to the preseason problem is. Its been looked at for years now. I really like our 16-game regular season schedule. It makes division play important with four-team divisions. With an 18-game season, that would de-emphasize division play. I think division play, and the rivalries that are fostered and celebrated are an important part of our game. Every game in the regular season means something with a 16-game schedule. I like the percentage of teams that make the playoffs. I like our playoff format. I’m happy with it the way it is.
DP: What would you like to see happen in Los Angeles?
GM: The L.A. market is important to the long-term success of the league. I’d like to see a team or teams occupy that market. I don’t know how it’s going to work out with these three teams—the Rams, Raiders and Chargers.