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Volume 24 No. 219
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Many Players Feel NFL's Recent Punishments Are Inconsistent, Contradictory, Flawed

The NFL's mixed messages regarding punishment for hits in games are "farcical and flawed but not unexpected" as the league "appears to be making up the rules as it goes, leaving players frustrated by the lack of leadership" from Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to Kevin Gorman of TRIBLIVE.com. The league suspended Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster one game for a shoulder-first shot with "incidental" helmet contact that caused a concussion, but only fined Bengals S George Iloka for a "helmet-first hit that didn't." Smith-Schuster and Iloka both were "involved in bang-bang collisions, what NFL players and coaches call 'football plays.'" They were "judgment calls that deserved fines, not suspensions." NFL execs yesterday gave "contradicting explanations" for the different punishments. NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Troy Vincent said it was the "act" of Smith-Schuster's hit that drew the suspension. However, NFL VP/Policy & Rules Administration Jon Runyan "partially blamed taunting in a written explanation" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/6). In DC, Deron Snyder writes the NFL trying to make sense of its judgment will "drive you crazy." NFL execs "long ago proved they don't have a clue about meting out punishment." Logic and reason for punishment have "been nonexistent." There is "no better proof than events that transpired" last weekend (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/7). In Boston, Ben Volin writes Vincent "explained some of the thinking" that went into Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski’s one-game suspension handed down this week, and "defended the severity of the suspension to critics" who think he got off too lightly. Vincent said, "You want to be fair and firm, but not excessive" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/7).

SAFETY FIRST: In Pittsburgh, Sean Gentille writes people have "seen it in hockey over the years." It has become "nearly impossible to tell the difference between a play that gets a misconduct, a play that gets one game and a play that gets three." That is the "NHL’s fault." If the NFL "wants to avoid starting down a road to something similar, they should seize on -- and publicize -- the differentiation point." Smith-Schuster, like it or not, "got a game for standing over" Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/7). SI.com's Conor Orr writes player safety, and "how to attain it when a thousand diverging interests are all pulling at the core product, is a discussion that won’t go away." Goodell has to "find a way to appease a sect of players who feel the already biblical rule book hampers their ability to play and the alumni who have seen the long-term damage that a career in the NFL can do to one’s body" (SI.com, 12/7). CBS Sports Network's David Diehl said Smith-Schuster's punishment, "If you only give him one game, and then if we look back and you don’t give A.J. Green anything for choking out Jalen Ramsey, how is there any continuity among what you’re doing based upon the football player?" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 12/6).

CALL THE FLAG! USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes this is "on the refs, too." They have been "much too hesitant to eject players" like Gronkowski, who "should have been sent to the showers Sunday in Buffalo after he clearly crossed the line and went into thug mode." Sure, some of these blows "come in the midst of 'football acts.'" But other stuff, like Gronkowski’s hit of defenseless Bills CB Tre’Davious White, "needs to be dealt with by the zebras charged with maintaining control of the games." Vincent: "We don’t want to be in the business of ejecting players." You "can't have it both ways, NFL, when touting all the rules changes passed in the name of safety." The on-field officials "should be in the business of maintaining order, not adhering to a mentality that the league office will handle it during the week" (USA TODAY, 12/7).

CRIES OF CRITICISM: In Pittsburgh, Ed Bouchette notes the Steelers never were they "more livid across the board" as they were yesterday over the suspension of Smith-Schuster, the overturned suspension of Iloka and the "inconsistency from the NFL’s disciplinary process." Steelers G and player rep Ramon Foster said of the decision, “Super flawed, super flawed." He added, "They screwed it up." Steelers DE Cam Heyward said, "I just don't understand the consistency. What are they really saying?" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/7). ESPN'S L.Z. Granderson said, "Once again, we're shown how many holes that need to be filled in terms of how the NFL ... governs its players." He added, "Even though this doesn’t come directly from Roger Goodell, we feel like this is all part of the narrative that he has no control over this league.” ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley said, "I don't understand the NFL's uneven hand in terms of these punishments” (“SportsNation,” ESPN, 12/6). Steelers S Mike Mitchell yesterday said that he "felt the league was being hypocritical." In Pittsburgh, Dale Lolley noted many Steelers were "upset that Smith-Schuster got the same suspension" as that given to Gronkowski (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 12/6). Mitchell said, "We've got to do better as players when we sign the next CBA. We've got to get better leadership as who's running the league. Obviously, everybody from fans to owners to players are all disappointed in Roger Goodell. We've just got to do better" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/6). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, "These suspensions just seem to be so whimsical as to why somebody gets two games, why somebody gets a game, why something is reduced on appeal, why something’s not. I don’t understand what the hell the NFL is doing. I bet the players, if answering honestly, wouldn’t understand” (“PTI,” ESPN, 12/6).

AS SEEN ON TV: FS1’s Ray Lewis said of how the “MNF” broadcast of Steelers-Bengals may have affected the suspensions that the NFL handed out, “I'm listening to the game and I'm hearing words like ‘disgusting’ and this and that." FS1’s Colin Cowherd: “This was a standalone game. Ryan Shazier, terrifying early injury. The tone from the announcers was, ‘Okay, we could have a paralysis situation.’ I think that set the tone for the broadcast crew" ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 12/6).

TARGETING RULE INCOMING? In DC, Mark Maske notes the NFL will "give consideration this offseason to enacting a college-style targeting rule by which a player could be ejected from a game for an illegal hit, subject to confirmation by an instant-replay review." Vincent said that the league’s rule-making competition committee will "take up the issue after the season." Vincent: "It’s something that we have to consider. We’ve seen it work. It’s clean. ... It is a deterrent." Vincent’s comments "came during a week in which the NFL issued three suspensions, one of which was overturned on appeal, for on-field behavior by players during games" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/7).