It's official. The NFL upheld its three-game suspension of Vontaze Burfict for repeatedly violating the league's safety-related playing rules. NFL fans may think this suspension is warranted and that the upholding of the three-game ban is deserving, but this is an unprecedented move by the NFL.
Roger Goodell's sudden concern for player safety seems like yet another overreaction just a year after Deflate Gate garnered unnecessary media attention for far too long. The fact that New England lost their first-round pick in April's draft is ridiculous enough; the suspension of a quarterback who the league didn't have any concrete evidence on was even more ludicrous. You'd think Goodell learned from his mistakes, but he clearly hasn't.
Burfict has made dirty plays during his career, and a suspension for repeatedly violating player safety rules is perfectly reasonable. The timing and duration of the suspension, however, makes no sense. Burfict's dirty hit on Maxx Williams in Week 17 absolutely warranted a suspension, and the right move for the NFL to make would be suspending him for the Bengals' first-round playoff game. The suspension would've sent a stronger message, as the linebacker's entire body of work in 2015 would've rendered meaningless with a playoff game he wouldn't have been able to suit up for.
But of course, the league screwed up. Burfict's hit on Williams went almost completely unnoticed until Burfict made the now-infamous hit on Antonio Brown with 22 seconds to spare in Cincinnati's first-round playoff matchup. As the referees let the game get out of control, media outlets scoured through film, looking for dirty tape on Vontaze Burfict. Ravens guard John Urschel tweeted out video footage of Burfict's hit on his teammate, and suddenly, the world erupted.
Furthermore, Burfict's hit on Antonio Brown was questionable at best. Browns' teammate, James Harrison, and former teammate, Ike Taylor, among others claimed the hit was perfectly clean, yet fans around the NFL think Burfict is the dirtiest player in football.
Bomani Jones made a couple of great points the night of Cincinnati's loss:
one thing i’m learning from last night’s game: the announcers REALLY mold ppl’s impressions of what they saw.— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) January 10, 2016
for as much as ppl talk about how stupid they think the announcers are, times like these, they immediately parrot them.— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) January 10, 2016
It seems as though NFL fans just parrot whoever's voice is loudest. And on the night of Cincinnati's loss, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were very loud when it came to Vontaze Burfict's actions. So the question must be asked: Was the upholding of Burfct's suspension warranted?
Upholding the suspension was completely unwarranted, and while it was a bold move to make by the NFL, it was a very hypocritical move. Odell Beckham and Aqib Talib made dirty plays this season, yet both players only received one game suspensions.
The NFL seems to value maintaining their appearance over all else, but with Burfict's suspension, things could be changing.
Ndamukong Suh was in a very similar situation as Burfict, getting caught stomping on Aaron Rodgers after he'd already served a suspension for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2011. He was set to serve a suspension prior to Detroit's 2014 playoff matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, but he appealed and the suspension was reduced to a fine.
Another notorious repeat offender, Brandon Meriweather, continually violated the NFL's helmet-to-helmet hit policy, eventually getting sentenced with a two-game suspension, which was reduced to one game upon appeal. After violating the rules again with a clearly dirty hit on Torrey Smith, Meriweather received another suspension--only for two games. Prior to his second suspension, Meriweather had been flagged for six separate violations of unnecessary roughness rules for hits on defenseless players and the impermissible use of his helmet.
Despite six clear, intentional violations of NFL rules, Meriweather has only been forced to sit out of for a total of three career games from two separate suspensions. Suh, who clearly stepped on defenseless opponents, has only served a single-game suspension for offenses dirtier than Burfict's. I do believe Burfict's hit on Williams, low tackle on Ben Roethlisberger in Week 14 and the twisting of Panthers players' ankles were all dirty. But, his hit on Le'Veon Bell, in Week 8, was perfectly clean and his hit on Antonio Brown was questionable at best. He did hit him in the head/neck area, so a flag was necessary, but it wasn't a dirty play and in my opinion, it was a quick thinking play with no bad intentions.
To me, this looks like a complete overreaction by the NFL in order to save face. The perception of Burfict and the Bengals has been molded by announcers and the national media, and the perceptions aren't pretty. The entire situation stems from how the league handled Burfict's Week 17 hit on Williams (in not suspending him -- and not even publically announcing he was fined for the hit). If the league got it right then, Burfict wouldn't have to miss three games in 2016 and the media firestorm following Cincinnati's playoff loss wouldn't have ever happened.
Instead, Burfict is now Cincinnati's scapegoat, and he'll be watched as closely or even more closely than Harrison was watched when the Steelers linebacker was known for illegally hitting players and being the NFL's dirtiest player. Now that Goodell claims player safety as his number one priority, and, since he wants to make the NFL look good, it's fair to expect Burfict will be under the microscope for the duration of his career, fair or not.