On Saturday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh suggested that the media engage in a “self-check” when reporting on training-camp fights. Not many “self-checks” occurred on the practice field Tuesday in California, when the Cowboys and Raiders launched into a full-blown brawl.
The brawl, which resulted in a dogpile against the low-security fence separating the players from the crowd, culminated in a fan swinging a helmet at Cowboys cornerback B.W. Webb, and Webb attempting to retaliate.
The league-owned TV network failed to engage in an appropriate “self-check” when displaying images of the brawl, omitting any mention of fan involvement, and ultimately downplaying the whole thing as a “camaraderie builder.”
The only place an incident like builds camaraderie is the NFL’s legal department.
The league’s lawyers likely find the images horrifying. Not because of what happened, but because of what could have happened. The fan could have struck and injured Webb. Webb could have struck and injured the fan. Webb and other members of the Cowboys could have gone into the crowd and started beating on people, Pacers-Pistons style.
Apart from the potential involvement of fans in a setting where security is far more lax than it is at games, at some point a brawl among players becomes a violation of the personal-conduct policy, which expressly prohibits workplace violence. Nine years ago, Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received a five-game suspension for taking a cleat to the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode. At what point does a guy emerge from the kind of scrum that happened on Tuesday with a similar injury?
Good lawyers (and the NFL has good lawyers) worry about the worst-case scenario before it happens and plan for ways to avoid it. On Tuesday, a worst-case scenario was avoided not by planning but by dumb luck and a last-ditch “self-check” that kept players from creating a scene that would have made the league long for the P.R. fallout from the Ray Rice suspension.