The NFL's fine structure can be capricious at best, and ridiculous at worst. Players can be fined $10,000 for wearing the wrong color clothing or shoe, and less for obvious violations of the league's on-field player safety policies. Because, as much as the NFL's head office claims to care about player safety, the governing body run by Ray Anderson and Merton Hanks, and overseen by Roger Goodell, often fails miserably when it comes to walking it like they talk it.
Case in point: With 1:57 left in last Thursday's contest between the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles, Philly defensive end Trent Cole "engaged" Seattle offensive tackle Russell Okung in a judo flip that wound up ending Okung's season with a pectoral muscle injury. The flip happened after the play, and there was no penalty called, but you'll often see players fined large amounts by the league despite no flag being thrown on the field.
"He got thrown down after the whistle really blatantly," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said after the game. "Stuff like that happens in the game sometimes, but this was most unfortunate because he was damaged by it. So I'm sure the league will take a look at this one. It's worthy of their efforts."
Not in this case. The NFL fined Cole $7,500 for the move. Makes sense if you're used to the NFL's rank inconsistency in these matters, but the light punishment seems odd to respond to such an obvious infraction this way in the wake of the two-game suspension given to Ndamukong Suh for stomping on Green Bay Packers guard Even Dietrich-Smith. We're not sure what message we should take away from the league here, except that unless you've been targeted by the NFL (we're sure several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense will love the fact that Cole got off so light for this one), you can skate the rules and basically get away with it, player injury be damned.
Talking to the Philadelphia media on Wednesday after the fine was announced, Cole tried to explain his behavior. "I'm not a dirty player," Cole said. "At the time, all the stuff that led up to that, there was a lot of stuff that happened in that game. ... Watch that game closely and key on Okung and key on me and you'll see what I'm talking about … You all seen what happened. The guy was on my back after the whistle. He was holding me the whole game. If you look at that play he had me hooked. I'm running to the ball and he had me hooked."
Whether Okung held Cole or not — and let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he did — the admission by Cole without taking responsibility for his own actions was supposedly one of the things that got Suh in trouble with the league after the incident with Dietrich- Smith.
"First and foremost I'm only going to apologize to my teammates, my coaches, and my true fans for allowing the refs to have an opportunity to take me out of this game," Suh said just after the Thanksgiving game was over. "What I did was remove myself from the situation in the best way I felt and me being held down in the situation that I was in and for that, my intentions were not to kick anybody, as I did not, removing myself. As you see, I'm walking away from the situation. With that, I apologize to my teammates, and my fans, and my coaches for allowing…putting myself in a position to be misinterpreted and taken out of the game.
"The situation that I was in? I was on top of a guy being pulled down and trying to get up off the ground, why you see me pushing his helmet down, because I'm trying to remove myself from the situation and as I'm getting up, I'm getting pushed, so I'm getting myself on balance and getting out of the situation. Which, with that, a lot of people are going to interpret it as, or create their own storylines for seeing what they want to interpret it, but I know what I did and the man upstairs knows what I did."
Similar incidents, similar arguments? It would appear to be so. A marquee defender takes his frustrations out on an offensive lineman because he feels that he's being held or restricted unfairly, and the league acts accordingly. Only differences: Dietrich-Smith got up and got back in the game, and Okung's season is over. Oh, and the refs noticed the Suh stomp enough to call a penalty and decide to eject the player. Tough break for Okung, we guess, that Pete Morelli's crew wasn't able to do the same.
"It had nothing to do with the play," Carroll said. "It wasn't a late hit. It might look like he was trying to disengage and that might be what they say and all, but it was really late and it was really out of line."
Asked at the time if he planned to send the play in for review, Carroll assumed that it would be dealt with. "We don't have to," he said. "They'll take care of it, I'm sure. They can't miss it, but we'll send it in with all the stuff that we normally send in."
Perhaps the league was busy with other things, like going slo-mo through game film to discern whether anyone was engaging in any inappropriate touchdown celebrations or wearing shoes that were the wrong shade of orange.
Gotta keep your priorities straight...
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- Trent Cole
- Ndamukong Suh