Former Philadelphia Eagles lineman and U.S. Congressman Jon Runyan spoke to students about his multi-dimensional career during this week’s “Pizza With the Pros.”
Following his 14 seasons in the NFL, Runyan spent two terms as a member of the House of Representatives. He currently serves as the Vice President of Policy & Rules for the NFL, a position that oftentimes reports directly to commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I am the disciplinarian for what goes on between the lines,” Runyan said of his job at the league offices.
Runyan’s department is tasked with dealing out fines, suspensions, and – on rare occasions – expulsions due to on-field actions. To aid students’ understanding of his current occupation, he recalled an infamous brawl between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019. Browns’ defensive end, Myles Garrett, ripped off Steelers’ backup quarterback, Mason Rudolph, and hit him in the head. Although this conflict is most well known for the actions of the five players suspended, Runyan detailed how over 100 separate players and staff were fined as punishment for getting involved.
Handing out fines is not a straightforward process Runyan explained, “We have a whole team of biochemical engineers and epidemiologists that gather all the injury data – and digitally remaster that data to figure out force factors.”
The science behind a given altercation or hit is only one piece of the puzzle. A player with a history of offenses will undeniably be disciplined, but fine schedules and the Collective Bargaining Agreement create more “legal jargon” that Runyan’s team has to navigate through. He noted how most of the 100 fines dealt during the 2019 fight came from a policy forbidding players from leaving the sidelines prematurely and used it as an example of mediocre infractions that inadvertently hinder Runyan’s processes.
Although a grandiose figure, Runyan explained how his working relationship with Roger Goodell took time to iron out.
“You hired me to do a job, so let me do that job,” Runyan said. This was his mentality throughout his early days in the NFL Offices. Now a veteran in his league office role, he explained how Goodell has been, “comfortable in what he knows and what he doesn’t know.”
Runyan mentioned how trusting Goodell is with his staff, as it often feeds into his own work. The VP knows a governing position better than most, having spent four years as a member of the U.S. Congress.
The decision to join the political world was a no-brainer for Runyan, as it was, “an opportunity to serve [his] community.”
Although a learning process for him, it opened his eyes to a point he emphasized for students in attendance. He used an analogy to differentiate the concepts of governing and politics. He correlated governing to a coach who might make a questionable decision, but it is ultimately for the benefit of the team. On the contrary, politics is compared to a coach who is only willing to tell their players what they want to hear, a lack of criticism. Upon understanding this difference, according to Runyan, one can view what is going on in Washington D.C. from a more poised viewpoint.
Runyan concluded his discussion detailing his experience during his eight years as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He spent eight seasons in Philly, playing a vital role in the offensive line that helped carry the Andy-Reid-coached Eagles to consistent success.
The 6’7” Runyan was known as an enforcer on the football field and was awarded induction into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 2021.
“I never got beat in the NFL, I beat myself,” he said, listing fundamental mistakes that could have led to an unfavorable outcome on a given play.
Runyan shared stories of legendary coach Andy Reid and spoke on how he remains in contact with him. He told students to imagine how busy Reid is on a daily basis during the season.
According to Runyan, “He’s picking up on the second ring.”
Pizza With the Pros returns next week when Zach Berman of The Athletic discusses his experience as an Eagles beat writer.
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