If there is anybody that Pittsburgh Steelers fans love to hate—aside from William Gay or Tom Brady—it would have to be somebody on the Cincinnati Bengals, and they happen to have a couple of choice candidates. But the usual frontrunner is one of their new team captains, inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
We recently covered the fact that Burfict was handed down a five-game suspension as a result of an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver running a route earlier during the preseason. The length of the suspension was influenced by his status as a recidivist, having served a three-game suspension for his on-field conduct just last year.
Burfict and the Bengals (sounds like a bad band from the 60s, btw) pleaded their case vociferously and were outspoken in their belief that the hit was legal. While their defense did not get the suspension overturned, it did see the length of the suspension reduced from five games to three.
The original sentence was officially handed down by Jon Runyan, the vice president of football operations. In administering the discipline, he included the following in a letter:
“This is not your first offense with respect to illegal hits to defenseless players; to the contrary, this incident is consistent with your pattern of egregious safety-related violations including your hit on a defenseless player during the 2015 Wild Card game and your hit against a Baltimore tight end away from the play on January 3, 2016”.
The former incident makes reference to the hit that left Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown with a concussion. The other play has also been highlighted in the past, and both are pretty clear-cut as to being in violation of the rules.
Runyan’s letter continued, “when players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player…you must be held accountable for this continuing unacceptable conduct”.
I don’t know about other people, but as I review the play, it seems evident to me that there is illegal contact, including (inadvertent or otherwise) contact with the defenseless player’s helmet. While Burfict seems to make good-faith effort to attack the receiver’s front, rather than side, the receiver was running toward him in such a way that make doing so virtually impossible.
The Bengals believe the hit was legal, but that is not particularly relevant, as the bipartisan arbitrator, appointed by both the league and players association, ruled that it wasn’t. He will be suspended for the first three games this year and he can’t do anything about it.
I’m sure there are many ‘old school’ fans here who will be disgusted or something that a play like this is legal in today’s game, and even more less-than-hardliners would be outraged if a Steelers player was suspended because of a hit like this.