As ugly as the game was at times, there was nothing that occurred on the field in Cincinnati against the Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers that should have amounted to anybody receiving a suspension. And yet, in a reactionary gesture on behalf of the league, we saw not one, but two players suspended for actions that would ordinarily simply draw fines.
I am ordinarily not in the corner of those who want to run everybody in every position of power out of town. I don’t think Roger Goodell is the worst thing to ever happen to football, or that he is terrible at his job. But even I have to observe the comical inconsistency with which his tenure has dealt with disciplining players.
It seems obvious to me and to many others that the suspensions for Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and for Bengals safety George Iloka were triggered directly as a response to the framing of the events and their surroundings.
This season has seen an uncharacteristic number of unnecessary and unsportsmanlike conduct, from A.J. Green’s chokehold to Mike Evans’ incident, and multiple players ejected or suspended for contact with officials.
And then, just this Sunday, we had one of the top stars of our game, on one of the top teams, deliver one of the most disgusting acts I’ve seen on the football field in years when Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, after allowing a pass to be intercepted in his area, dropped the full weight of his body using his arm and helmet to drive into the head area of the defender who intercepted the pass, lying prone on his stomach, unaware of what was coming, after the play was clearly already over.
It was a disturbing and premeditated action that drew far too much negative attention, and which has now created a climate in which the league office is on its guard for any and all infractions, looking to create the image of one again being tough on matters that pertain to player safety.
What Smith-Schuster did, while unintentional, in striking Vontaze Burfict as a defenseless player in the head and neck area, was avoidable and unnecessary, and unacceptable. His decision, uncharacteristic of his personality, to stand over him, was inexcusable. But neither, nor both taken in totality, merited a suspension.
What Iloka did, while unintentional, in striking Antonio Brown as a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area, was avoidable and unnecessary, and unacceptable. But the most inexcusable element of this play was the fact that Brown was not checked for a concussion.
These plays should have ended in penalties followed up later in the week by fines, and that should have been the end of it. During a normal week, that is how it would have played out. Especially if the game in which they occurred was not nationally televised. The announcers demonizing Smith-Schuster in particular did not help in framing the national debate. But this is where we currently are, and there’s nothing that can be done about it, for now.