When the Steelers met with the Bengals in Cincinnati on Monday night, the storyline for ESPN was simple: AFC North football is a battle. This was evident throughout the pregame show and the first drives for both teams, as penalties were thrown against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. On the Bengals’ first possession, Ryan Shazier went down on the turf after leading with the crown of his helmet on a tackle against Josh Malone. The stadium sat in silence as the medical staff worked on helping Shazier. As he was carted off the field, the crowd at Paul Brown Stadium applauded, Bengals and Steelers fans alike. ESPN and the football world awaited news all night on Shazier’s condition. (Luckily it sounds like he’s doing better than it looked he would be at the time.)
Cross into the second half of the game. JuJu Smith-Schuster laid a crack back block on Vontaze Burfict. During the hit, there was helmet to helmet contact, and Burfict was jolted to the ground, before being stood over by Smith-Schuster, who was flagged for both unnecessary roughness, and taunting. Burfict was also carted off the field, albeit with less of an injury then Shazier, but still carted off. Smith-Schuster has been suspended one game by the NFL as has Bengals safety George Iloka for an illegal hit he laid on Antonio Brown moments later.
Now, somehow, the narrative has turned to Smith-Schuster getting “revenge” on Burfict and that karma had finally caught up to the Bengals linebacker. Just ask Brown who could not stop screaming “karma” while Smith-Schuster apologized to Burfict, via the media, after the game.
As JuJu Smith-Schuster describes his block on Vontaze Burfict, Antonio Brown keeps yelling ‘Karma.' pic.twitter.com/rX6COmuxoE— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) December 5, 2017
I want to take you back to another hit in the Bengals vs Steelers rivalry, one that might cause some wounds to re-open for Bengals fans. Shazier came at Giovanni Bernard in Cincinnati during a playoff game, lowered his head (even appearing to close his eyes from other angles) and hit Bernard in the neck and face mask area with the crown of his helmet, taking him out of the game, and forcing a fumble that the Steelers took possession on. No penalty was called and a rule was later created by the NFL to ensure this play would be a penalty in the future. Bernard suffered a serious concussion, left the game and was reportedly out of commission for quite a while to recover from the injury. The Bengals’ season was over so there were no further games or media sessions in which he could provide updates.
The hit on Bernard is similar to what we saw on Monday from Shazier on Malone. But football fans aren’t citing the hit from Shazier on Malone as karma for the playoff game during which Shazier injured Bernard. The narrative, as it should be, is to wish the best for the injured player and hope for a speedy recovery.
However, people in droves—whether it be the average fan with a Twitter account, or Brown interrupting a Smith-Schuster interview—are calling the hit on Burfict karma and are actively applauding the Steelers’ receiver for injuring the Bengals’ linebacker.
Here are just a few of the countless examples from Twitter:
No injury in the National Football League should be taken lightly. No hit to the head or neck should be accepted. If the NFL is willing to let players from their more popular teams like Pittsburgh taunt opposing players with head and neck injuries and say it’s karma, they are losing the battle to protect their players.
When asked about the Shazier injury, Bengals players like Clint Boling, Andy Dalton, and Chris Smith all expressed their thoughts and prayers going out to Ryan Shazier for what he is dealing with. Dalton even stayed on the field after the game to join a prayer circle with Steelers players.
Smith-Schuster apologized for taunting Burfict, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stated that he believed that standing over Burfict was wrong, while still saying that the Steelers respect player safety. Do they though? Does Brown really respect player safety?
The hit on Brown by Iloka wasn’t legal and now he’s suspended. I also believe that Smith-Schuster deserves his suspension for illegally hitting and then taunting Burfict. Finally, it’s simply disrespectful and out of place for Brown to scream about karma in regards to Burfict, a player who was concussed on Monday and has experienced numerous concussions in the past.
Football players are humans like the rest of us. They have families, they have people who love and care about them, they have lives to continue on with after football. No one deserves to be injured in the game of football. No one deserves to have their career end due to a dirty—or clean—play. Saying that karma is the reason for a player to be injured is distasteful and you’d expect more from an NFL star like Brown. There’s no place for that mentality in the NFL.
If the NFL truly respects player safety, they need to make it clear to the rest of the NFL that it’s not okay to hit a player in the neck or head area, and it’s never okay to cite karma as a reason for a player being injured.