Before last Sunday, the NFL didn’t fine players for criticizing officials, absent an attack on an official’s integrity. The comments from Washington cornerback Josh Norman prompted the NFL to disregard past practices and to seize on the letter of the applicable rule, imposing a $25,000 fine because Norman said publicly of line judge Brad Freeman: “You suck.”
Last November, former 49ers guard Alex Boone said something similar. And he wasn’t fined, even though he specifically acknowledged that he could be.
“I’m not really too worried about getting fined. I thought those refs sucked,” Boone said after a loss to the Cardinals. “That’s what I’m sick about this league. This is supposed to be a man’s game. Be a man. That’s what pisses me off, that guys like that work in this league and work on this field, and we have to deal with it. Whatever. It was a terrible call. They had terrible calls all game. I don’t care what the league says. I don’t care what Roger [Goodell] says. It’s the truth. You don’t like it, get the hell out of here.”
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Boone wasn’t fined — and he didn’t even hear from the league to warn him that further remarks of that nature could get him fined.
Boone isn’t the only one who issued strong criticism of the officials last season without consequence. Following a playoff loss to the Steelers, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones posted this message on social media: “The f–king ref did a horrible f–king job. You got Joey Porter in the middle of the f–king field talking sh-t to everybody and then when somebody says something to him . . . he isn’t even supposed to be on the f–king field.”
Although Jones deleted the video, the league surely knew what he said; the quotes were posted on the league-owned website.
So what’s really going on here? The most plausible theory is that the Commissioner suddenly decided to apply the strict language of the policy to Norman, regardless of the fact that it hasn’t been applied that way to others in the past.
Of course, an argument based on past precedent would be very persuasive — if someone other than the Commissioner or his designee were handling the appeal of Norman’s fine.