Generally speaking, when you see your name in a head to head match that takes the form of a marquee boxing match, and the opposition is listed as a large group of people, who may tend to question what exactly happened to get you into such a position.
Currently, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is wondering what to do with himself during the first three games of the 2016 regular season, because he will be serving a suspension during that period of time, due largely to a series of incidents that he had against the Pittsburgh Steelers over the course of the past couple of seasons.
Not that the Steelers have been the only team or players that have been on the receiving end of his unique brand of play—even a camera man felt his wrath—but against Pittsburgh alone, he tore the MCL of running back Le’Veon Bell, kneed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the shoulder while on the ground and was fined for an illegal low hit in separate games, was likely nearly ejected from a playoff game for striking wide receiver Antonio Brown in the head as a defenseless receiver, and even drew reserved offensive lineman David DeCastro to tussle with him to the ground.
It is for all of that and more that his actions alone against the Steelers headline ESPN’s list of the top feuds currently shaping the upcoming NFL season, tough outside linebacker James Harrison’s confrontational invitation to Roger Goodell also managed to place third on the list.
“You could argue that Burfict ended the Steelers’ Super Bowl hopes last season”, Kevin Seifert wrote, and that is in fact exactly what Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams argued after the team lost to the Broncos in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, a game in which Bell and Brown were absent because of him, and Roethlisberger was ailing.
Seifert also mentions Burfict’s “Twitter war” with Williams in his write-up of the feud, but the truth is that a number of Steelers players have feuded with Williams both on social media and through traditional media. Linemen Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert in particular have been critical of his style of play, as has linebacker Vince Williams.
The ESPN columnists writes that this rivalry “appears rooted more in genuine dislike than in gamesmanship” and that “Burfict’s playing style implies little regard for the well-being of other players, who have noticed and are fighting back”.
Harrison once famously gave an interview in which he said that he played the game wanting to hurt people, distinguishing hurt from injury. Burfict’s play certainly seems to shift more than more to a desire to injure his fellow players.
That is exactly why he is sitting out the first three games of the season, and if his conduct continues, he might find that a suspension of a much lengthier nature is in his future. Personally, I don’t think that an outright banishment from the game should be ruled out if he continues to escalate his playing ‘style’.