The League

Leonard Shapiro
Columnist

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

Fines do just fine

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I've now watched replays of that fight involving Houston's Andre Johnson and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan at least 7,000 times over the last 24-hour news cycle, and it's surely on par with anything you'll ever see on a typical night in the NHL.

I also must admit I've seen far worse football scuffles, most of them occurring on brutally hot training camp days in July and August, when teammates actually go after each other in the heat of a two-hour practice conducted in oppressive conditions. I also can't tell you how many times I've had coaches wink at me and admit they love to see that sort of passion from their players, at least as long as no one gets hurt.

It appeared that no one did get hurt in Sunday's face-off either, surely the reason the league, as of Monday at least, did not suspend the players and likely will issue a stiff fine to both of them instead. I believe that constitutes the most practical punishment, along with both of them properly being ejected from the game on Sunday.

After the game, Johnson apologized to his teammates, the organization and the fans for what he described as "losing my cool," and good for him for not slinking out of the locker room and avoiding questions about the incident. In addition to being one of the game's elite receivers, Johnson seems from afar to be a class act in every way, and his very public apology surely confirms that.

Finnegan may be a different story. Three times earlier this season he had been flagged for personal fouls after the whistle blew and he already has been warned to tone down his act. He's apparently got a lot of hothead in him and because of those past transgressions, may have to pay a stiffer fine than Johnson. One Houston television station also reported that his elbow to Johnson's facemask, which precipitated the incident, may have been premeditated. The station, citing multiple sources, said that before the play, he came over to the Tennessee sideline and said "watch this." That could not be confirmed on Sunday, because Finnegan granted no post-game interviews.

Bottom line in all of this is that football is a violent game played by large, aggressive men taught from early childhood that being the baddest boy on the field is not necessarily that bad. To its credit, the league has never encouraged that sort of behavior (unlike the hockey suits, who have always believed a good fight is always good for the gate and the ratings). And the threat of a 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, the wrath of an angry head coach and the possibility of losing a lot of money in fines has always been the best deterrent in the NFL.

Fine them both, and if it happens again with either man, a suspension surely would be in order. But not this time.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  November 30, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Houston Texans , Leonard Shapiro , Roger Goodell , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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If you believe "a class act" is punching someone in the face 3 times and then apologizing, I'd hate to meet the people you think aren't classy.

Posted by: Jeffmonger | December 1, 2010 1:29 PM

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