The League

Michael Kun
Author

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

A dangerous precedent

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At the moment, there are a number of reports indicating that neither Andre Johnson nor Cortland Finnegan will be suspended for their impromptu mixed martial arts match during Sunday's Texans-Titans game.

Fined? Yes.

Suspended? No.

This, of course, comes only a week after Richard Seymour escaped suspension when he made the day of many women and Steelers haters by decking Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Seymour was fined for his open-handed head slap. But $25,000 to Richard Seymour, who apparently is earning more than $12 million this year, is the same as $100 for most of us. (Would you pay that amount to slap someone at work? I know a lot of people who would run to the cash machine if presented such an opportunity.)

While Johnson and Finnegan may not earn as much as Seymour, they would likely laugh if they end up walking away from Sunday's fistfight with a $25,000 fine, while keeping the rest of their salaries for next week's games.

Some fans will say that a fine alone is appropriate for Johnson and Finnegan. They may argue that a $25,000 fine is a heck of a lot more than what NHL players get hit with whenever they fight -- and that NHL fights are a lot more frequent, a lot longer and lot more violent than the Johnson-Finnegan fight.

All of which is true. And all of which misses the point.

I love hockey. But I don't want the NFL to turn into the NHL. And neither do you.

Technically, the NHL frowns upon fighting -- although you wouldn't know if from the way they promote the game, and the way fans and players react to fights. No matter what the NHL says, fighting has become part of hockey. And it's affected the way teams play and the way they set their rosters.

For decades, NHL teams have employed "goons" and "enforcers" -- players with little real hockey skills whose main job is to harass and/or injure the other teams' star players. Take a star player out of his game -- and perhaps out of the game altogether. And if one team has a goon, then every team has to have one to even the playing field and protect their star players.

If a goon gets a penalty or gets ejected from the game, who cares?

And if he succeeds in knocking the opponent's star player out of the game, then it's a trade any team would make: we lose our goon, and you lose your star player.

Is this what we want in the NFL? Absolutely not.

There's already enough pushing and shoving going on, which is understandable. Football is a physical game.

But do we want to send a message to players that it's okay to escalate matters from pushing and shoving to actually fighting, which is what Johnson and Finnegan did? And that they aren't going to be suspended for that? That they might just be ejected from the game, as Johnson and Finnegan were, and given a minor fine?

If that's the case, won't that encourage teams to start using players like the goons in the NHL?

Why wouldn't you send the last man on your bench in to rough up Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Drew Brees?

So your guy might get kicked out of the game and given a fine that just happens to match the performance bonuses he receives?

Why wouldn't you hope that Brady or Manning or Brees would have to leave after being roughed up, or would fight back and get tossed from the game, too?

Who wouldn't essentially trade the last man on their bench for Brady or Manning or Brees?

If this sounds ridiculous, it should. It is ridiculous.

Unlike the NHL, the NFL should want to do everything it can to keep its best players on the field at all times. And that means occasionally suspending players when they engage in wildly inappropriate conduct that could result in serious injury if unchecked.

If Finnegan had broken Johnson's jaw, or vice versa, it would be clear that a suspension was in order. But it's the conduct, not the result, that should dictate the punishment.

The NFL shouldn't be using the NHL as a model for anything, let alone for conduct on the field. Seymour, Johnson and Finnegan crossed lines. They -- and we -- are lucky no one was injured as a result.

Failing to suspend them sets a dangerous precedent, particularly for a league that is so image conscious.

Where do you draw the line now?

By Michael Kun  |  November 30, 2010; 12:08 AM ET  | Category:  Houston Texans , Michael Kun , NFL Rules , Roger Goodell , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Fines do just fine | Next: Hits worse than fights

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