When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially floated the possibility that players could be ejected for two personal fouls, he was answering a question specifically about the suspensions of Giants receiver Odell Beckham and Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. But the rule that was passed at last week’s league meetings wouldn’t have been relevant in the cases of Beckham and Burfict.
Last week, when asked about the NFL’s new two-strikes-and-you’re-ejected rule, Goodell said that when he was initially asked about the proposal before the Super Bowl, he thought it was in the context of improving sportsmanship around the NFL.
“My recollection may not be that good, but I’m pretty sure the question at the Super Bowl was what you are going to do about sportsmanship,” Goodell said last week.
Goodell is right: His recollection is not that good. He wasn’t asked about sportsmanship at all. According to the NFL’s transcript of Goodell’s pre-Super Bowl press conference, Goodell was asked, “In light of the on-field incidents involving Odell Beckham Jr. and Vontaze Burfict that led to suspensions, and the players union often challenging disciplinary decisions, do you envision any formal system for in-game ejections of players for egregious offenses or acts?”
In his answer, Goodell specifically said he’d like to see an automatic ejection for two personal fouls — not just for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which is the rule the NFL ended up adopting.
“I believe that the league should pursue a policy where if there are two personal fouls in a game, there’s an automatic ejection of the player,” Goodell answered. “I believe that’s consistent with what we believe are safety issues, but I also believe it’s consistent with what we believe are standards of sportsmanship that we emphasize. We should take that out of the hands of the officials when it gets to that point. They’ll obviously have to throw the flag, but when they do, we’ll look to see if we can reach an agreement on the conditions of which they’ll be ejected. That’s a Competition Committee matter.”
As it turned out, the NFL passed a much narrower rule than what Goodell outlined at his press conference: Players will only be ejected if they get two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for abusive language, baiting, taunting, or throwing a punch, forearm or kick at an opponent (even if he doesn’t make contact). That’s not what Beckham and Burfict were suspended for, and it’s not really a matter of player safety, either: Although a punch, forearm or kick could certainly injure a player, if this rule were truly aimed at player safety it would incorporate helmet-to-helmet hits, late hits, roughing the passer and other personal fouls, all of which cause far more injuries than punches, forearms or kicks.
Seeing as players hardly ever get two penalties in one game for unsportsmanlike conduct, this rule — for all the attention it got when Goodell first discussed it — won’t have much of an effect on the NFL at all.