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NFL hurting game with excessive fines

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Hub Arkush
Publisher and editor

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By Hub Arkush

During the Lions’ visit to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers on Sunday night, QB Matthew Stafford completed a 19-yard pass over the middle to WR Calvin Johnson from his own 30-yard line. As Johnson went to the ground to secure the catch, Packers S Morgan Burnett came up from the deep middle to defend the play. As Johnson cradled the ball on the turf, Burnett came over the receivers’ back and either his stomach or chest glanced across Johnson’s shoulder and possibly his head in as benign and clean a football hit as any of us could hope to see. Nonetheless, out came the yellow laundry. Burnett was flagged for unnecessary rougness (blow to the head) and now we await the likely news from the NFL office that he’s been fined, allegedly in an attempt to protect him and his fellow players when all he was doing was playing football.

In the Week 12 meeting in Minnesota between the Bears and Vikings, on Chicago’s fourth possession of the game, Vikings DB A.J. Jefferson was flagged for unnecessary roughness. On the very next play, Bears QB Jay Cutler scrambled out of bounds, chased by Jefferson, and as they crossed the boundary, Cutler softly tossed the ball to Jefferson. Cutler was immediately flagged 15 yards for taunting and the following week he was fined $10,000 for the play. As prickly and at times downright unlikable a character as Cutler can seem at times, the flag seemed excessive and the fine downright absurd. Who this fine was protecting is unclear.

You’re all knowledgeable NFL fans, and I assume you’re aware there was a play in the Thanksgiving Day game between the Texans and Lions in which Lions DT Ndamukong Suh’s left foot appeared to make contact with Texans QB Matt Schaub’s genitalia. OK, I just wanted to use that word for the first time ever in a football column, but that is where Schaub got kicked.

In the days immediately following the game, the NFL’s vice president of football operations and designated “Finer In Chief” Ray Anderson said a review of the play would take place, but it didn’t look good for Suh. The comments were made before the review. Then came word that Suh would not be suspended, leading us all to believe he had been vindicated since he had been suspended two games for a cheap shot/kick of Packers OG Evan Dietrich-Smith in a 2011 Thanksgiving game, and certainly a repeat occurrence would demand a more severe penalty. Finally, it was determined that Suh would be fined $30,000.

I was on the sidelines of that game reporting for Dial Global radio — as close to the play as anyone — and can tell you that, unless Suh has eyes in the back of his head — which I can report with absolute certainty he does not — the nut-shot on Schaub had to be an accident. Apparently, Suh was fined $30K merely for being Ndamukong Suh, and because someone in the NFL office felt like it. It makes me wonder, is due process and the best interests of the players — and thereby the fans — really a forgotten concept in the NFL?

Each week this season we are learning of longer and longer lists of fines, many for plays that were not penalized on the field, supposedly issued in the name of protecting the players (although I continue to be puzzled by who the Cutler taunting fine protected). There was the absurd suspension of Ravens FS Ed Reed, later reduced to a $50,000 fine because he had the audacity to attempt a hard but clean football play. Bears MLB Brian Urlacher was fined $15,750 for a horse collar of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson that wasn’t flagged during the game, and then a week later he was fined again for a horse collar penalty on Seahawks RB Leon Washington that was flagged, but didn’t even resemble a horse collar.

I have two thoughts for the commissioner and his folks on their supposed crusade to make the game safer for the players. The first is that what they are in fact doing is ruining the game and making it more dangerous as it becomes more and more impossible for players moving at full speed to determine what is permissible and what is not. The second is, don’t even talk about player safety until you do away with Thursday-night games or you will continue to embarrass yourselves and the game!

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