In light of the Ray Rice episode, it’s hard to imagine that the NFL would once again undershoot on a player punishment–and yet that’s exactly what has happened in the Vontaze Burfict “ankle gate” case. Amidst a consensus among sports journalists and message board entries for a two-to-four-game suspension, the NFL has ruled that Burfict will only face a $25,000 fine.
According to a league statement, Burfict has been warned that he’s considered a repeat offender subject to escalating discipline and that any future incidents of this kind will result in his being summoned to the league office. One has to wonder why the oft-penalized Burfict was not already considered a repeat offender, and why the NFL threatened merely to “send him to the vice principles office,” so to speak.
Burfict was caught on tape intentionally twisting the ankles of a pair of Carolina Panther two players who came into the Panthers-Bengals contest with ankle injuries–quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen. He also delivered a helmet to helmet hit on Kelvin Benjamin. The NFL had tape evidence sent by the Panther’s coach Ron Rivera. Both ankle incidents occurred after touchdowns–Cam’s on a quarterback keeper off the read option–and Olsen’s on a pass from Newton. The touchdown had been signaled and the whistle blown in both instances before, as Olsen put it, Burfict “cranked” on the ankles. It’s easy to see Burfict twisting the ankles while trying to hide it from the camera.
The Panther tight end will not be happy with the league’s verdict, as he had called for a suspension on Monday. He said “me and Cam are lucky we aren’t out for weeks. At some point, if the NFL wants to really say they care about safety, they’ve got to start putting guys out for weeks.” Olsen insisted that the “punishment needs to go beyond a fine. Guys like that don’t learn from that stuff. He’s been fined a hundred times for headhunting, and he did it to Kelvin [Benjamin].”
Olsen will not be the only one upset at the small slap on the wrist. On ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, both Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon strongly endorsed the idea of a multiple game suspension Tuesday evening. “Right now, yeah, at least two games” said Wilbon in response to the question of whether Burfict should be suspended. “Olsen is 100% right. There’s no arguing against Olsen’s position. We have video evidence–indisputable video evidence–sit him down now!”
Kornheiser, who reminded viewers that he was paid to disagree with Wilbon, said “I’m not taking the other position. That guy twists ankles like Ivan the Terrible in wrestling…you can’t have that…Olsen is a thousand percent [right].”
It was also nearly unanimous on Around the Horn, with host Tony Reali and the other panelists hissing at the lone voice against a multiple game suspension, Pablo Torre. This is not to say that the opinions of ESPN hosts and commentators stands as gospel, but it is rare for them to be in such unanimous agreement on a football issue not related to political correctness. And they are correct. What Burfict did to those ankles was not part of hitting hard and not part of anything to do with the inherent violence in football. It was pure and simple thuggery.
And Roger Goodell–who saw the taped evidence ahead of time in this case–has again missed badly with a ruling. He remains a remarkably tone deaf Commissioner.