Reactive Discipline Remains A Problem For NFL

As ugly as the game was at times, there was nothing that occurred on the field in Cincinnati against the Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers that should have amounted to anybody receiving a suspension. And yet, in a reactionary gesture on behalf of the league, we saw not one, but two players suspended for actions that would ordinarily simply draw fines.

I am ordinarily not in the corner of those who want to run everybody in every position of power out of town. I don’t think Roger Goodell is the worst thing to ever happen to football, or that he is terrible at his job. But even I have to observe the comical inconsistency with which his tenure has dealt with disciplining players.

It seems obvious to me and to many others that the suspensions for Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and for Bengals safety George Iloka were triggered directly as a response to the framing of the events and their surroundings.

This season has seen an uncharacteristic number of unnecessary and unsportsmanlike conduct, from A.J. Green’s chokehold to Mike Evans’ incident, and multiple players ejected or suspended for contact with officials.

And then, just this Sunday, we had one of the top stars of our game, on one of the top teams, deliver one of the most disgusting acts I’ve seen on the football field in years when Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, after allowing a pass to be intercepted in his area, dropped the full weight of his body using his arm and helmet to drive into the head area of the defender who intercepted the pass, lying prone on his stomach, unaware of what was coming, after the play was clearly already over.

It was a disturbing and premeditated action that drew far too much negative attention, and which has now created a climate in which the league office is on its guard for any and all infractions, looking to create the image of one again being tough on matters that pertain to player safety.

What Smith-Schuster did, while unintentional, in striking Vontaze Burfict as a defenseless player in the head and neck area, was avoidable and unnecessary, and unacceptable. His decision, uncharacteristic of his personality, to stand over him, was inexcusable. But neither, nor both taken in totality, merited a suspension.

What Iloka did, while unintentional, in striking Antonio Brown as a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area, was avoidable and unnecessary, and unacceptable. But the most inexcusable element of this play was the fact that Brown was not checked for a concussion.

These plays should have ended in penalties followed up later in the week by fines, and that should have been the end of it. During a normal week, that is how it would have played out. Especially if the game in which they occurred was not nationally televised. The announcers demonizing Smith-Schuster in particular did not help in framing the national debate. But this is where we currently are, and there’s nothing that can be done about it, for now.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • taztroy43

    I agree but it’s still such B.S. by the NFL

  • The Tony

    There has been little to no consistency with the NFL corporate office. Godell is judge, jury, and executioner. This is setting a very bad precedent going forward. Is every helmet to helmet hit going to warrant a one game suspension? Will taunting be a suspend-able offence? You can make the argument that the excessive celebrations could be considered taunting. The NFL is so incredibly hypocritical that is has become almost unbearable. I’m not going to ever stop watching the games but I can understand how others would. The ratings are dropping and ESPN advertises this game as classic AFC North football. The game lived up to it’s billing and the NFL is now appalled by what took place on the field so they decide to suspend a player with zero prior infractions on a play that was questionable. To make matters worse, Gruden and McDonaugh spend the entire broadcast making the most dangerous and penalized player in recent years to be a martyr, while consistently mispronouncing names of players on the field. This lack of professionalism to me is another reason why the ratings are in decline. Unfortunately I foresee the next CBA agreement to be a long drawn out process and I would fully expect to see the league not starting on time until a resolution is made. The players gave Godell too much power and I can’t see the next CBA going over easily or quickly. Rant over

  • treeher

    Unfortunately, JJ let himself be made an example by the league. I don’t think the suspension would have happened without the optics of his taunting afterwards. I think it’s true that the other suspension happened for similar reasons – optics on a national stage. Plus, the league THINKS it shows consistency. But my bet is that Iloka’s appeal will be upheld. They just can’t start to suspend players for head to head hits, intentional or not. Well, they can, they’re that stupid, but I don’t think it will go that way. By the way, if JJ had merely been fined, it would have cost him almost as much money as his suspension.

  • Lil Smitty

    The Gronk incident should have treated the same as Albert Haynesworth stomping on a players face. I think it was 4-6 games.
    JuJu was suspended because someone in booth complained and brought media attention. If the nFL is so concerned about these hits than everyone who gets flagged or delivers a hit without a flag, should be suspended.

  • Sam Clonch

    Kiko Alonso (Dolphins LB) has TWICE hit sliding QBs in the head this year, one of which had Joe Flacco looking for the waiter, and guess what. No suspensions.

  • mem359

    I am only half-jokng that these are PR suspensions, not disciplinary ones.
    Even though Ray Rice’s actions were known from the start (by his testimony), there is a reason why he wasn’t suspended until there was massive public outcry.

  • PghDSF

    I think any player that hits someone in the head should be suspended. Fines don’t do enough to make players change how they hit.

  • The Tony

    I agree that the Iloka suspension should be upheld as well. To me, Iloka’s hit on Brown was intentional and retribution for the hit on Burfict.

  • The Tony

    That is going down a slippery slope. It’s hard to determine if the helmet to helmet is intentional or not. How many times has there been a helmet to helmet unnecessary roughness penalty called when the ball carrier was going low to avoid a hit and the defender was also going low to avoid the helmet.

  • nutty32

    Gotta believe the JJSS and Iloka suspensions are a message to the steelers and bungles to stop the ongoing blood fued that’s gotten out of hand. There’s no other explanation to the inconsistent punishment unless every head shot in week 14 also gets suspended, which is highly doubtful and probably runs afoul of the cba.
    Don’t think this has anything to do with Gronk. Group punishment has been against the Geneva convention since the German atrocities in quelling resistance to their occupation during ww2.

  • dennisdoubleday

    It was a particularly vicious helmet shot. I don’t know how AB maintained the catch, or even consciousness.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Well, yeah, it costs him about the same, but he doesn’t get to play…against the Ravens.

  • LucasY59

    totally impossible (linemen do it every play) and a lot of the hits to the head are somewhat incidental where the defensive player isnt targeting the head, they are just trying to make a play, or the offensive player ducks and is just as responsible for the contact as the defensive player (but the D is the one that gets penalized…or suspended?)

  • PghDSF

    I’m obliviously talking about the illegal hits that are penalties.

  • LucasY59

    I agree they cant figure out how to control these games (as long as the bungles keep thugs on their roster, it will stay the same) so they are trying to do it with these suspensions

    Juju’s hit had two things that resulted in penalties, but the block wouldve been legal if he didnt have helmet to helmet contact, and the taunting was hard to avoid (young guy still trying to prove himself to the team, gets a big hit on a guy that has been the bully and is a hated division opponent, so he stands over him after the hit like “how do you like some of your own medicine”)

    I was a little surprised to see DeCastro run over to pull SS away (when normally DD is wishing he could make that kind of hit on Confict) but I think it was more because he knew flags where flying and taze is unstable so could turn into something even uglier real quick

    the Iloka hit was also not suspension worthy, I have no doubt Mitchell would make the same hit if the roles were reversed (I guess that doesnt take away any guilt, but my point is that he was trying to make a play because that was pretty much what lost them the game) like the Smith Schuster hit, it deserved the penalty (and probably fine) but should not result in suspension

  • johnhoien

    This rivalry and the last few games are being made an a example..Even though there are similar games through out the year, this game will be the POSTER CHILD for years to come.. It was MNF, national stage w/ all eyes on player safety.. & the things tha Happened were not good for players Saftey.. The head , neck needs to be protected… Unfortunately it’s this game that will be highlighted for years to come.

  • PghDSF

    When a player is flagged, the players intent shouldn’t be a factor in the suspension.

  • NinjaMountie

    There was an episode of The Orville where the crew found a parallel earth society that’s form of justice was ran by social media. If you got too many down votes you were taken into custody and “reprogrammed.”
    Welcome to that society people! We are now social media ran and guilty even if proven innocent.

  • johnhoien

    Totally agree.

  • NinjaMountie

    On a side note, it appeared JuJu learned his lesson as he had an almost identical block later that drive that didn’t get flagged.

  • Bill

    The perceived violence of this game has been grossly overstated; actually it was a fairly clean game. Aside from the chippy after play stuff, other than the two plays being examined adinfinitum, there was little else. Everybody talks penalty yards but most of those were due to holding and pass interference calls. You’ll see hits like these quite often and they’re not always intentional; players running at full speed are likely to have hard collisions and despite what pundits think, you can’t always know exactly where both heads will be at time of impact. These suspensions meant to be a clear message to the entire league. Shazier’s injury placed a pall over the game and I believe that’s the reason people think the game was so violent. That injury was not the result of a dirty play and Shazier’s helmet first tackling technique might have had something to do with it. One last thought: It’s possible that Jackson’s lack of action along the sideline on the Bell TD was because he was afraid of being penalized for an out of bounds hit.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Has anyone considered that has all been scripted ala WWF or ‘The Running Man”

  • Ray Istenes

    My issue is the inconsistency.

    I will bet there have been 15-20 hits this year equal to what JuJu and/or Iloka hits from Monday night and probably no one was suspended unless they were a repeat offender.
    If those same hits happened at 1:00 Sunday afternoon I doubt there are suspensions. If the actions during this game was a concern then the NFL never should have scheduled it for a Monday night.

  • Darth Blount 47

    When you hear reports about Burfict after the incident, it certainly feels as though HE was out there trying to orchestrate the happenings. First, he totally flops against Bell to draw a penalty earlier in the game. And although JJSS hits him quite harshly, if you re-watch the play, Burfict seems to sense in the moment the potentiality for theatrics, and proceeds to put on a bit of embellishment, IMO. I garner that conclusion, from his pre-game comments about saying that AB was “faking” his injuries in the previous playoff game against the two teams. I wouldn’t for a second put it past Vontaze, to be smiling ear-to-ear, when he saw that JuJu was suspended. And tapping his fingers together like Montgomery Burns uttering… “Excellent,” at the thought of him missing the Ravens game and maybe hurting our chances.

  • Obi Ryn Denobi

    Corrupt and clueless bigot league in a corrupt and clueless bigot country.

  • Dan

    Sure doesn’t feel right being on the same side of some issue as Jerry Jones, but geesh Goodell sure needs to go.

  • Gloria Burke

    Agree totally with the Albert Haynesworth or even Ndamukong Suh’s suspensions for the kick in the groin or stomping on the arm. The two incidents are not even comparative – one within the confines of making a football play and one because he was “frustrated” and thought he’d Jimmy Super Fly him into submission. I’m disgusted at the NFL right now. I agree that the taunting was a bad thing but is this NOW the precedence for every taunting? Probably not. This was a response to, I believe, Jon Gruden’s screeching. Even the announcers were under the pall of the Shazier’s injury. Plus they were so sweetly supportive of the current day NFL Thug Burfict the ENTIRE game that I had to switch over to listen to Tunch on SNR.

  • pcantidote

    Interesting thoughts, but you give Burfict way too much credit. I’m guessing it takes him 10 minutes to tie his shoes. I can’t see him hatching that scheme in a split second.

  • corduroyninja

    Gruden jocking Burfict all game and then repeatedly blasting JuJu certainly didn’t help after JuJu knocked out Gruden’s love child.

  • corduroyninja

    Seriously, what was the deal with the Gruden-Burfict love-fest all game?

  • corduroyninja

    Push a guy who went out of bounds and get a penalty. Don’t push him and he scores a touchdown.

  • corduroyninja

    Burfict definitely was able to attack JuJu from the ground before becoming immobile. I think he didn’t expect to be totally removed from the game and was just trying to ensure JuJu got the penalty.

  • mhurk

    Truely a slippery slope, They should just put lights in the helmets and when some one gets Their bell rung the lights go off. fair all around. This discretionary policy obviously favors certain teams (Pats) (Bungles) and players (Gronk) (Iloka) and unfair to others like the Steelers and Juju.

  • Jim Foles


  • Darth Blount 47

    I think he did it because of the effect he saw he had when he flopped against Bell earlier in the game. And the comments he made about Brown faking, were also likely running through his dome, from the outset.

  • Edo M

    I think these are marketing choices the NFL makes to a large degree in the doling out of suspensions…the sport has turned into the movie ‘Rollerball’. in the case of gronk he only got one game so he could be bright eyed and bushy tailed for the Steelers game…having gronk in the lineup for the game helps them market the game not to mention helping the patriots win. anyone can see that Gronk deserved a longer suspension than JuJu

  • pcantidote

    When I think of thoughts running through his dome I picture a pinball bouncing wildly with no real purpose

  • ND_Steel

    Funny part is, at this point it hurts the Bengals for Juju not to be playing against the Ravens, as they are only playing for a Wild Card spot at this point (all be it a long shot). But Burfict certainly isn’t smart enough to realize this, nor would he care.

  • EdJHJr

    Ya let’s call it the Gruden suspension