The League

Anthony Stalter
National Blogger

Anthony Stalter

Senior Sports Editor for The Scores Report

Subjectivity is a necessity

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Only the NFL can repeatedly find itself on Slippery Slope Mountain.

Here Roger Goodell and Co. are trying to crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits by fining players large sums of money and Andre Johnson goes and pummels Cortland Finnegan. Now what? Do they fine Johnson as much as they're fining James Harrison and other defenders for lowering their helmet to hit ballcarries? Technically Johnson went fist-to-head, but should everything fall under the same umbrella?

Fortunately for the league, this type of situation doesn't come up too often. There are anywhere from 13 to 16 games every week throughout the season and you may get one Johnson vs. Finnegan brawl once every couple of years. (And they usually involve the Giants and Eagles.) So this isn't something the league has to be too concerned with, which is why they need to look at all situations separately.

Every situation is different. In the Johnson-Finnegan fight, you have a player in Johnson who has never been in any trouble with the league, and a player in Finnegan who was already warned that another fine-able situation would put him in hot water. It's clear that Finnegan instigated the fight and he got exactly what he was looking for because he started clapping after Johnson used the back of his head as a punching bag. Finnegan is known for being a dirty player and his beef with Johnson goes back to last year when he hopped on the Texans receiver's back during a game in September when it was clear that Johnson was going to make a reception.

The league has to consider all parties involved when a situation like this arises. Finnegan, for lack of a better word, is a punk. Earlier this year, he was fined $5,000 for throwing Giants' receiver Steve Smith to the ground by his helmet. Later in the season, he was fined for unnecessary roughness after hitting Broncos' guard Chris Kuper after Kuper's helmet was off. Then came the Johnson incident, where he shoved his forearm in the receiver's face and threw the first punch (watch the video - it wasn't a very good punch, but it nonetheless was the first one thrown).

Now, whether you think Richard Seymour deserved a stiffer punishment for slapping Big Ben is irrelevant. The situation is entirely different because you didn't have two players turning midfield into their own personal Saturday night smackdown. Seymour took an open hand to Roethlisberger's head and he was fined. Done deal. The league can't draw anything from that situation and apply it to the Johnson-Finnegan fight. We're talking about different players, different motives and a different kind of fight. Seymour's act wasn't premeditated like Finnegan's was. He got ticked off at Roethlisberger so he gave him a love tap. Finnegan set out to get into it with Johnson and he got what he was looking for.

The same thing can be said for illegal helmet-to-helmet hits. Those hits come on the field in the middle of a game. Players aren't trying to be fined; sometimes it's human nature to lower your head to make a tackle when you have a couple of inches of hard plastic and cushion protecting your dome. It just happens and again, it's not premeditated (although in the case of Harrison, it might be).

The league does a nice job of taking everything into account when a situation like this arises. It's only fair to look at a player's track record before coming to any conclusions about a suspension or fine. What Johnson did was wrong - no question. But he doesn't have a reputation for acting up, which the league took into account. That's the way it has to be so that the NFL doesn't continuously find itself heading down a slippery slope.

By Anthony Stalter  |  November 30, 2010; 10:33 AM ET  | Category:  Houston Texans , NFL Rules , Roger Goodell , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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