That fight occurring before Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Bengals traces directly to the last game between the two teams, and its aftermath.
During the Week Eight contest in Pittsburgh, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict applied a hit to Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell that resulted in a season-ending knee injury. After the game, Steelers linebacker Vince Williams posted a tweet that Burfict and other Bengals players regarded as a death threat: “I catch Vontaze on south beach im painting that boi on sight.”
Williams later deleted the tweet and issued a statement in which he refused to apologize for his words but also said he “shouldn’t have taken these feelings to Twitter.”
As Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth explained it by phone to PFT after the game, Burfict confronted Williams before the game because of the threat — and because the NFL took no action against Williams for threatening to kill Burfict.
Whitworth expressed frustration about the league’s failure to take action, raising concerns about the potential consequences of death threats made by NFL players against other NFL players — especially if fans see those threats and decide either to make threats of their own, or to act on them.
He’s right, and Williams’ behavior seems to constitute a violation of the plain terms of Personal Conduct Policy, which prohibits “[a]ctual or threatened physical violence against another person.”
It’s possible the league didn’t do anything about the threats because the league didn’t want to turn a fairly small story into a big story. Regardless, the NFL’s inaction directly sparked the extracurricular activities that occurred before Sunday’s game. Which may now require the NFL to do something.
If the NFL does something about what happened Sunday, the NFL also needs to do something about the threats that Williams previously made.