As Vontaze Burfict appeals suspension, NFLPA should look to keep him banned

Dan WetzelColumnist

Oakland’s Vontaze Burfict is appealing the NFL’s decision to suspend him for the rest of the season after he blasted Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle in the head Sunday.

It is, of course, just the latest transgression involving Burfict, who was fined or suspended 14 times for various conduct during his seven seasons with Cincinnati. That included serving six games worth of suspensions for illegal hits, four games for performance-enhancing drugs and incurring, per Spotrac, $449,090 in fines for unnecessary roughness. There was also a $12,154 clip for flipping some fans the bird.

Ostensibly Burfict is going against Jon Runyan, NFL vice president of football operations who handed down the suspension. As such, the NFL Players Association is in Burfict’s corner, a classic case of a union defending one of its members in what is a dispute with management.

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The NFLPA is doing what it is supposed to do. That’s the benefit of union membership. It is what it is there for.

It would be nice, especially in this case, if it wasn’t.

Vontaze Burfict is no stranger to fines and suspensions in his eight NFL seasons. (The Denver Post)
Vontaze Burfict is no stranger to fines and suspensions in his eight NFL seasons. (The Denver Post)

This isn’t about Burfict v. the NFL or Burfict v. Runyan or Burfict v the collective-bargaining agreement.

This is about Burfict v. Jack Doyle. That’s who the victim is here. He’s the one who damn near got his head caved in by a player who appeared to be blatantly trying to cave it in just as he has tried to cave other player’s heads in repeatedly in the past.

This is also about Burfict v. Cam Newton (ankle twisting, 2014). Or Antonio Brown (head shots 2016, 2018). Or Greg Olson (ankle twisting, 2014). Or Ben Roethlisberger (twice diving at knees, 2014). Or Maxx Williams (chin shot, 2016). Or LeGarrette Blount (stomping, 2016). Or Anthony Sherman (defenseless hit, 2017). Or Roosevelt Nix (kicking, 2017). Or Stephen Hill (spearing, 2013).

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Or so on and so on, each and everyone of them NFLPA members.

For once it would be great if the NFLPA asked the NFL to reconsider the suspension but not in an effort to shorten it, but to make it permanent.

If only for the sake of all its other members who keep getting brutalized by a player who has proven, over and over, to be incapable of controlling his rage on the field.

“Their job is to look out for the best interest of all 1,800 players, not one guy that consistently endangers the health of the other 1,800 because he won’t follow the rules,” said Ross Tucker, who played seven years in the NFL, on Monday’s “Jim Rome Show.”

“If anything the NFLPA should be pushing for him to be banned for life.”

This isn’t a contract dispute. This isn’t a clash with a coach or management. This isn’t a battle with the league office or a salary arbitration or anything else the union is supposed to help with.

No one should be more upset with Vontaze Burfict than the NFLPA, which is there to serve and protect its members. No one should want a guy like this out of the game more than the NFLPA, who represents the people most at risk from Burfict’s act. It isn’t Roger Goodell who is taking the head-first hits.

“Better late than never,” Patriots tight end Ben Watson tweeted.

It’s a strange situation when the players association has to back something that is consistently harmful to players.

Instead it’s left to the NFL to do the scolding. That means Runyan, who is no empty suit here. Runyan played 14 years in the league as a very physical offensive tackle. In a 2006 Sports Illustrated poll, he was voted the second dirtiest player in the league. Yet he sounded frustrated and infuriated in his suspension letter to Burfict.

“There were no mitigating circumstances on this play,” Runyan wrote. “Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided …

“Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly-appointed appeal officers that future violations would result in escalated accountability measures,” Runyan continued. “However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.”

Exactly. Football is a violent game. Players get injured. Bad hits happen. That’s the deal. But no one signed up for this stuff.

Much of the 2019 offseason and early season was consumed with the erratic and outrageous behavior of Antonio Brown, who got dumped from Pittsburgh, forced his way off of Oakland and then got cut from New England while off-field trouble surrounded him. Almost no one could look at Brown and think he is behaving within societal norms. It isn’t easy for a Hall of Fame talent to be out of the league while still in his prime. That’s why it isn’t a reach to wonder about those two vicious hits Burfict delivered to him, particularly knocking him cold at the end of a January 2016 playoff game.

This is no longer about ringing a guy’s bell or scaring him about going over the middle or even knocking him out of a game. It’s way bigger than that. We’ve seen too many tragic stories to pretend otherwise.

The NFL is sitting Vontaze Burfict for a year. It’d be great if the NFLPA asked for longer.

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