Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was ejected Sunday against the Tennessee Titans for making contact with an official, and at the time, people were either irate at the ref or upset with Burfict for even touching him.
According to one Bengals player, the refs have been trying to provoke the linebacker into getting in trouble. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported:
The Bengals player said he has heard officials cursing at Burfict on multiple occasions, and there is video that shows officials coming into contact with the linebacker three times in the past four games.
... Over the past month, according to a source close to Burfict, the Bengals linebacker has grown increasingly upset with officials' treatment of him and feels he is being singled out by officials.
The league responded to the accusations:
An NFL spokesman denied those charges Monday, saying it is not unusual for officials to come into contact with players and that there has been nothing unusual involving officials' interactions with Burfict.
It makes sense that refs do come into contact with players quite a bit during games. The context of that really means everything, and the alleged video footage hasn’t been released yet. The cursing would be harder to prove, but would be far more egregious as far as behavior from a ref. Again though, proof would probably be needed.
Really the more interesting story is probably how the player Schefter spoke to says Burfict has grown more frustrated with his treatment from refs recently. So much so that the linebacker has even complained to Marvin Lewis about it.
Burfict has complained to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, a member of the league's competition committee, but those complaints have not been brought to the league office, an NFL spokesman said Monday.
That has to be frustrating to read as a player. You feel like your head coach is supposed to have your back, and you tell him these things that have been going on. Then you find out he never even did anything about it. That is a morale killer. Lewis even talked about it during his press conference on Monday.
“The officials have a job to do,” Lewis said. “I’ve explained this to Vontaze; he understands that. They have a job to do and they are going to separate players if players are in a situation where they (need to be separated). That’s not what this is about, or where the NFL should be. So, get back to the huddle and get going. That’s the most important thing. We don’t need to jaw with anyone after the play — any of the players. That’s important. It would shock me if those things occur. I know on occasions supposedly they have, but again that would shock me.”
It is just as shocking to hear this from a head coach about one of his players. He essentially takes the side of the refs twice over Burfict without any real middle ground. Maybe Lewis is frustrated with always having to defend his linebacker’s actions, but Burfict is the leader of his defense. If Burfict’s morale is down, it isn’t hard to expect the entire team morale to suffer.
The NFL has also decided not to suspend Burfict for his actions, which says plenty about the actual severity of the incident. If the NFL felt Burfict really put his hands on the refs in a meaningful way, that’s a definite suspension.