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Jessie Bates fined for helmet-to-helmet hit on Brandin Cooks; was it justified?

Just who was it that initiated the contact?

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NFL: International Series-Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Rams
Jessie Bates
Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals safety Jessie Bates III doesn’t usually say much. But he might want to make an exception just this once.

Bates was recently fined $28,075 for his hit on Rams’ wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the opening quarter of Sunday’s game in London’s Wembley Stadium.

And he might want to speak up, particularly considering the disproportionately large amount of the fine and the fact that it was the first time for Bates, who was the Bengals’ second-round pick out of Wake Forest last year. Bates is set to make a paltry (by NFL standards) $704,901 this year, an average of $44,056 per game. The fine represents nearly 64% of Bates’ game check.

According to the NFL/NFLPA’s Schedule of Infractions and Fines, Bates received the minimum, first-time offender fine for Impermissible Use of the Helmet.

Article 8 of the NFL Rulebook states that “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.”

Take a look at the photograph of the hit at issue, and answer one simple question: Just who was it who initiated the contact?

In the photo, the crown of Cooks’ helmet makes contact with the side of Bates’ helmet. And look how low Bates is, seemingly making every effort to avoid just the sort of fine that he eventually received.

Jessie Bates and Brandin Cook collide

49ers Cornerback Richard Sherman seemed to have just this sort of play in mind in 2018 when he told USA Today, “It’s ridiculous. Like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket. (It’s) gonna lead to more lower-extremity injuries.”

The NFL’s Compliance Department also stresses that, “when feasible, the league gives players every opportunity to avoid a fine.” But take a look at that photo once again, and judge for yourself. Just how was Bates to avoid the fine in this particular case?

It is unknown at this time whether Bates intends to appeal the fine. If he does not, the NFL will withhold the amount of the fine from his next check.

There is some consolation in knowing that all fines collected go to former players and not to the NFL. The Players Association and the NFL have agreed to donate fine money through the NFL Foundation to the NFL Player Care Foundation and the Gene Upshaw Players Association’s Players Assistance Trust.