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Jon Runyan: From the NFL to Congress and Back

By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider

You spend the first part of your life battling the likes of New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, a 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, a couple of times a year.

If that wasn’t tough enough you become a New Jersey Congressman and deal with those issues for two terms before you decide you had enough of politics.

Now, still only 42 years old, you become the NFL’s vice president of Policy and Rules Administration which means you have to decide what plays and players deserve fines for illegal hits.

Strahan? Congress? Player fines? What was the toughest task for former NFL tackle, now VP, Jon Runyan?

“I’d have to say the unpredictability of government, because you never know who your friends and who your enemies are,’’ Runyan said of his three jobs. “You never know where anyone is coming from.’’

Runyan, who won the elections for New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district in 2010 and 2012, gave up politics in 2014 after his second term. Now, he’s a vice president, but not one out campaigning. He’s doing it back in the NFL.

“It’s something different, for sure,’’ he said of his new role in the league office. “But there’s politics in everything you do.’’

How did the Michigan native, a14-year NFL veteran with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers see his way from the halls of Congress to the NFL office on Park Avenue in New York City? It started by way of an old teammate.

“Troy (Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of Football Operations) and I have stayed in contact through the years,’’ Runyan said of his Eagles teammate in the late ‘90s into the 2000s. “Troy is the kind of guy who always likes to pick your brain, tries to find out what makes you tick. When I was in Congress, he brought camera crews down to Washington and had them ask me about how football prepared me for what I was doing then.

“We talked back and forth. One day he asked if I would ever think about working in the league and I never say no to anything. So we just kept talking and he said he was making a move in that department.’’

Runyan’s job now is to watch certain plays every week and determine the severity of the foul and if it deserves a fine or even a suspension. It’s not the kind of job where you make a lot of friends. Kind of like being a Congressman.

“In this job, people are probably going to look at me in a bad light,’’ Runyan said. “But if you take the NFL rule book and the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and put them together, all I’m doing is checking boxes. I’m not making things up. These are all rules that everyone agreed to beforehand. All these fines, everyone signed off on all of it.

“The NHL calls it Player Safety and I think we’re moving that way. Because that’s really what it is. It’s all about player safety, the late hits, spearing guys, hits to the head, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.’’

Runyan will work closely with Dean Blandino, the NFL’s senior vice president of Officiating. The two will be together in New York the opening weekend of the season.

“I’ll be going to different games during the course of the season, but I want to be in New York early in the season to learn a little more,’’ Runyan said. “All my data comes from Dean and the officials. During the regular season Dean is in New York. So I’m going to be there to see what he’s thinking and how he’s processing all of it.’’

There will be plays over the course of the season where a penalty isn’t called, but a player still draws a fine the next day.

“And usually an official gets downgraded for that,’’ Runyan said.

It’s not going to be easy for Runyan to assess fines to players, just like it wasn’t easy keeping Strahan from sacking Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb or getting a bill through Congress.

But he’s looking forward to his new job. He had enough of the last one.

“It was frustrating,’’ he said of his political career. “I couldn’t imagine running again right now. It’s like one of my colleagues once said. I’m going to miss the clowns. I’m not going to miss the circus.’’


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