As some Internet hack said during last night’s Chargers-Colts postgame, the NFL set the precedent last week for fighting, fining Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour $25,000 after throwing an open hand to the face of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
On Sunday, Texans receiver Andre Johnson and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan engaged in a more graphic display of mutual fisticuffs. Per multiple reports (we could start listing them but then we’ll leave someone out and we’d inevitably get an e-mail about it), the NFL has fined each guy $25,000, with no suspension for either player.
Just like Seymour.
Presumably, both have been given the minimum fine set forth for repeated offenders, given Johnson’s $7,500 fine for an incident last year with Finnegan, and Finnegan’s general history of being a flagged-and-fined punk.
Perhaps the NFL is a little gun shy right now, given that fines imposed against Baby Fridge for crotch-grabbing and Bart Scott for non-chinstrap-fastening have been overturned recently by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, who handle the appeals. Still, there’s something fundamentally different, in our view, about hitting a guy who’s wearing a helmet and hitting one who isn’t. At a minimum, the penalty for punching a helmetless player should be severe, regardless of whether it’s a first strike or a tenth one.
It’s an issue that needs to be taken up in the offseason, and it’s something that the league and the union need to resolve as part of the new CBA. Either pro football will become hockey, where fighting is part of the rubber-necking allure of the sport, or pro football will become basketball, where justice for throwing punches comes swiftly and decisively. Regardless, this ambiguous and arbitrary middle ground doesn’t work, not when guys are fined much more than $25,000 for aggressive action committed before the whistle blows.