In the first quarter of the Houston Texans' 34-31 Thanksgiving overtime win over the Detroit Lions, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh either intentionally or inadvertently kicked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin as he was being pulled to the ground by Texans guard Derek Newton. Suh was not penalized on the play, nor was he ejected from the game as he was when he stomped Green Bay Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith last Thanksgiving Day.
The action looked unintentional on its face -- things happen when huge people are running around as quickly as people do in the NFL -- but Suh's history of on-field violence will work against him, whether he likes it or not. The league will review the Schaub play on Monday, per NFL VP of football operations Ray Anderson, and Anderson's imperative to forward the league's player safety cause may have Suh racked up before any official review even begins.
When Anderson spoke to USA Today about the play, he used the same "repeat offender" term he used when speaking of the one-game suspension he gave to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed. That suspension was subsequently overturned by Ted Cottrell, who is employed by the NFL and the NFLPA to handle appeals for on-field disciplinary issues. Reed was fined $50,000 instead for three violations of the defenseless player rule over the last three years.
"No judgment has been made," Anderson told USA Today's Jarrett Bell on Saturday. "We'll go through the process. Certainly, a player's history is factored in."
No judgment has been made? Well, when we delve further into Anderson's comments about the Suh incident, the words seem to indicate otherwise.
"From my personal point of view, it was unusual, to say the least," Anderson said. "Don't know if it was a football move I've ever seen."
And on "The Dan Patrick Show," Anderson went further.
"If a player has been disciplined in the last two seasons -- 2010 and 2011, in this case -- and that discipline has either been affirmed or reduced, which means that he was still determined to have been a violator, then that will certainly factor into our thinking as we look at a current offense ... because if you're a repeat offender, you really are not entitled to the benefit of the doubt. That will factor in as part of the thinking in this case and any others where there's repeat offender presence."
Whether Suh's action was an unusual football move or not, Anderson's seeming need to spout off publicly about reviewable incidents before rulings are made is going to be distressing to players under review, to be sure. In addition, some of the things Anderson told the media when he was questioned about the Ed Reed process might lead one to believe that the league's current modus operandi is more about establishing blanket discipline than it is about dealing with each incident individually. In short, players are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, or at least a fair process.
When Anderson was asked by ESPN's Mike Golic just how Reed was supposed to deal with a receiver who has altered his own pad level to put himself in harm's way, as Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders seemed to do in last Sunday night's game, Anderson spoke more in generalities and talking points than in specifics.
"Well, Ed Reed is a repeat offender, and the burden is on the defender to alter his target in situations like that, where a [receiver] is defenseless," Anderson said. "Here's the bottom line for us -- hits to the head and neck area are potentially life-altering, as well as career-altering. We believe that, and we have enough to show us that. Illegal hits to the head and neck area are our biggest concern, and we are absolutely intent on getting those out of the game."
Illegal hits to the head and neck should be a major concern for the league, as should players who engage in repeated cheap shots. But it will also be a point of concern for the players if they believe that they are being pre-judged and railroaded in the NFL's mission to make the game safer. Anderson needs to take a step back and realize a couple things: First, he's undermining the NFL's efforts by appearing to hold a pre-determined position. Second, he needs to be more careful about how he represents himself when speaking to the media. It was an embarrassment for Anderson and the NFL to have the Reed suspension overturned, especially because almost nobody outside the league's office believed that Reed should have received that punishment.
Suh's history will have a lot of people believing that he should be suspended for any infraction, no matter how minor. That's human nature. The NFL must rise above that and include the need for a fair and unbiased process when talking about what's best for the game.
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