Another week, another social media eruption related to an incident which involved Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. At this point, it’s just to be expected that the media will jump all over anything the linebacker does, even if it isn’t a dirty hit. And seeing as though Burfict is all over the field on a weekly basis — he’s accumulated 34 tackles in the past three weeks — he’s going to be involved in at least one play where people reach for false narratives to discuss in each game.
On Sunday, the incident occurred about 10 minutes into the game, as Burfict legally shoved Steve Smith to the ground on a play during which Carlos Dunlap sacked Joe Flacco. (Whether the play in question should be legal is a completely different story, which we’ve previously discussed.) Smith quickly got up, appearing to head-butt the Bengals linebacker in a Zinedine Zidane-esque fashion. Granted, Smith’s head-butt wasn’t as blatantly obvious on film, but no one seemed to be questioning the receiver’s intentions as he rose to his feet. Here’s the clip of the play:
Vontaze Burfict tricks the refs into a personal foul penalty here with this flop https://t.co/t0SgdlwTd5— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) November 27, 2016
It’s hard to argue Smith had innocent intentions on the play with this screengrab available:
That said, it was also pretty obvious Burfict flopped on the play. Afterwards, the linebacker even displayed his humorous side, laughing at either the fact that he flopped or Smith’s reaction to his messing with the wideout.
But rather than talk about Smith, a guy the media has portrayed as a relentless and loudmouthed “warrior,” the discussion has predictably focused around the controversial Bengals linebacker.
NFL Network’s Dan Hanzus came up with an interesting take, even insinuating Smith would kill Burfict at some point in the near future:
Burfict has made a grave error in judgment...I'd almost give Burfict credit for this if not for the fact that he tries to permanently disable a contemporary every other week. Anyway, Smith assuredly declared vengeance immediately after this encounter and soon we're not going to see Burfict anymore...Bye, Burfict. You had a pretty good life. It's over now.
That seems unusual for Hanzus, who is one of my personal favorite NFL analysts and the host of NFL Network’s flagship podcast, Around the NFL. But at this point, it’s become Hanzus’ job — and the job of so many others who work for large media networks — to magnify meaningless moments of games and make them go viral, in turn, generating even more revenue for the companies who publish these so-called stories.
Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports pitched a different lede but still managed to make the story about Burfict rather than Smith:
Hey, give Burfict credit. The man who has been fined more than $805,000 in his five-year NFL career decided it's more advantageous to his teammates — and his wallet — to be on the other end of a penalty flag, even if it means flopping around the field like a fish out of water.
Samer Kalaf of Deadspin also made Burfict’s reputation the subject of his story:
Burfict has many instances of dirty play listed on his résumé, but in today’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, he showed off his versatility with an ostentatious flop.
As quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass, Burfict shoved Smith in the back, and shoved him again on the ground. Smith, who does not tolerate bulls**t, gave Burfict a relatively gentle head-butt as he stood up, and the linebacker pretended that he had been hit with a pipe.
Everyone knows that Burfict stories go viral at this point, but it remains frustrating to see the media continue to try to paint Burfict in a bad light, even on a harmless play like this one. Burfict was not the problem here. In fact, the penalty occurred toward him, not because of him. Neither Burfict nor Smith made any efforts to deliberately hurt their opponent, yet Smith was still the guy who head-butted Burfict. Despite this, Burfict was the subject of seemingly every story on the issue, though Smith — the self-proclaimed best trash-talker in the NFL and a controversial player in his own right — could (and should) be the subject of the story.
Last month, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett griped about Jets guard Brian Winters, who head-butted Bennett in a 17-27 loss, yet none of the articles discussing the incident focused on Bennett’s actions prior to the head-butt (though many articles quote Bennett, who called the head-butt a dirty play and seemed to celebrate the concussion Winters suffered on the play itself). Rather, they focused on the guard’s head-butt and his ensuing concussion.
Burfict’s reputation is understandable, but it still doesn’t explain the media’s hypocrisy when it comes to him, pointing to the linebacker as a guy who tries to end careers on a play where he acted as any NFL player would and did nothing of note.
And to those saying a penalty shouldn’t have been called on Smith, a head-butt will be called every time a ref sees one.