The NFL acted quickly in handing out discipline yesterday following the ugly ending to the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. Both clubs were fined $250,000, while instigator and assaulter Myles Garrett received an indefinite suspension that runs through at least the entirety of the 2019 season.
In addition to Garrett, two other players received suspensions for their roles in the aftermath of that incident. Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi blindsided Rudolph with a shove after he was hit in the head, and for that he received a one-game suspension. For the Steelers, center Maurkice Pouncey was suspended for three games after he helped bring Garrett to the ground following the assault, proceeding to throw several blows and a kick toward his head.
While many Steelers fans are arguing that Pouncey’s suspension is too long, the reality is that there isn’t a lot of precedent for this sort of stuff. Attempting to kick another player laying prone on the ground in the head, regardless of what led up to that, is a pretty serious thing.
But I was struck by the wording of Steelers President Art Rooney II’s statement pertaining to the events that unfolded that night, which seemed to be very carefully chosen. Though he had a player suspended for three games and his organization was fined a quarter of a million dollars, he seemed to say a lot in what he didn’t say.
Instead of saying that they were disappointed in Pouncey, it reads, simply, “the players involved”. Obviously it has to include multiple players on both sides of the field, but typically, if you have a player suspended, you address it directly.
The closest that he came to addressing it directly was by saying that “we must always maintain composure”, referencing Pouncey’s retaliatory behavior against Garrett after he watched the Browns defender assault Mason Rudolph.
“No matter what happens”.
That line, in conjunction with the wording of the rest of the statement, feels like a wink-and-nod toward Pouncey. As in, ‘you can’t do that, but I know that you had to’.
And frankly, I think that’s how it should read. What are you supposed to do after watching somebody assault a close friend with a weapon, striking him in the head? I don’t condone violence by any means, but it’s reasonable for one to choose—or not even choose—to respond aggressively against the instigator.
Organizationally, the Steelers can’t say that they appreciate what Pouncey did, but they do. I don’t think anybody really cares about the fines or suspensions. What happened on the field right then and there was way beyond football. One of their own could have been severely injured as a result of a violent act that in almost any other context would unquestionably be criminal.