This Sunday's brawl between Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan resulted in ejections for both players late in Houston's shutout victory over their division rival. Across the country, Texans fans (and Johnson's fantasy owners!) anticipated suspensions from the league office. Meanwhile, Finnegan's fan (singular; seriously, does anybody like this guy?) got so upset, he pounded enough Four Loko to confuse Vince Young's college highlights with his NFL career.
Given the nastiness of the melee, suspensions for both players seemed like a reasonable expectation:
Similarly, when Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour sucker-punched Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger two weeks ago, I thought for sure he would be suspended. After all, the hit took place waaaaay after the whistle and was unambiguously malicious. On the off chance you haven't seen Seymour's cheap shot yet - if you root for any other AFC North squads, you've probably been watching this ad nauseum - here's the video in glorious, punch-you-in-the-face-when-you're-not-looking HD:
And yet none of these players will miss any time beyond the minutes after their ejections. Moreover, the league levied fines of only $25K for each of these transgressions. That's three times less than the fine Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison incurred earlier this season for his helmet-to-helmet collision (video) with Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.
Following the Steelers' 35-3 clobbering of the Raiders, Harrison was asked if he thought the league should suspend Seymour, in addition to a presumed fine:
"I don't see why not. [Roethlisberger]'s celebrating with his teammates and you punch him in his face."
Harrison also made sure to distance his own aggressive style of play from Seymour's after-the-whistle thuggery:
"I hope he would hear from the league a lot worse than what I did. I'm playing the game within the whistles. What he did was way outside of it."
I suppose the argument against suspending Seymour is that he already missed half of a football game due to his ejection. Add a full game's absence to that, in addition to a fine, and I guess some folks (read: Raiders fans) could say that's overkill. What's more, Seymour did apologize ... to the Raiders:
"I apologize to my teammates. I never want to do anything to hurt the team...there's no excuse...I'm not sure why [Roethlisberger] ran up on me. I just turned around and it was a natural reaction."
So there you have it. I'm not sure what "running up on someone" really means, but if it's what Roethlisberger appeared to do in the video above - basically brush up against Seymour en route to celebrating his touchdown strike to Emmanuel Sanders - I'm certain that doesn't warrant punching someone in the kisser. Either way, if you ever find yourself in line behind Seymour at the grocery store, do yourself a favor and give that man his space - otherwise he might have a "natural reaction" and knock your block off.
On the Johnson v. Finnegan front, Texans coach Gary Kubiak already gave his star receiver Sunday's game ball, despite the clobbering he issued. What's more, Johnson handled the aftermath with about as much class as you can expect in such a situation:
"I would like to apologize to the organization, our owner, and my teammates. What happened out there today was not me. I just lost my cool and I wish that I could take back what happened, but I can't. It's over and done with now."
As for Finnegan, he's already expressed his desire to be the dirtiest player in the league, and let's just say his track record shows real promise. Prior to Sunday's brawl, the corner was fined by the league numerous times, so if you're going to cite Harrison's track record of injurious hits, you're going to have to reconcile that with this punk's extensive rap sheet. (Side note: Finnegan v. Johnson in a fistfight is about as fair as Finnegan v. Johnson in the passing game - which is to say not very fair at all - so don't expect a rematch in Week 15, unless Finnegan really has a death wish.)
Now that I've chronicled the thuggery craze that's been sweeping NFL nation over the past two weeks - whew! - let's double-check Roger Goodell's arithmetic:
Sucker-punching thug on a structurally deficient franchise ($25K) + petulant cornerback starting a fight he can't finish ($25K) + elite receiver losing his cool against said petulant cornerback ($25K)
= helmet-to-helmet collision that took place between the whistles ($75K)
Okay, wait a second...did I forget to carry the five? Something's not adding up here.
No matter how you feel about Harrison - and I will be the first to acknowledge my own pro-Steelers bias, believe me - you can never prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that his helmet-to-helmet hits are deliberately malicious. Some NFL hits (read: late ones) are clearly, indisputably dirty, but can we really presume that defenders like Harrison - players who are moving a million miles a minute, mostly reacting based on instinct - are laying these blows with complete volition? Vilifying hard-hitting players like Harrison and slapping them with enormous fines or suspensions isn't going to make helmet-to-helmet hits vanish. At best, it's a pandering move by the league to make itself appear concerned, when big hits are part of what makes the game marketable in the first place. By contrast, the scuffles we've seen over the past two weeks are undeniably malevolent and inexcusable - they do the league a disservice.
Now, if the NFL wants to fine Harrison for his recent bashing (video) of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, we can reasonably speculate that the fine will amount to anywhere between 75,000 and 964 billion dollars. It's actually really frustrating trying to figure it all out. Kind of makes me wanna go punch somebody in the face.
Maybe I will. After all, according to the NFL, that wouldn't be the worst thing.