If you didn’t know the name JuJu Smith-Schuster before Tuesday morning, chances are pretty good you know it now.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict sure won’t forget it.
We could make a thousand arguments supporting or condemning the block the Steelers’ rookie wide receiver -- and touchdown-celebration rock star — put on Burfict in Monday night’s game: it was dirty, Burfict had it coming, etc. The problem isn’t with the hit. The problem isn’t even with the way Smith-Schuster then stood over the concussed linebacker like the kid in school who got pushed just a little too far and snapped on the older, much larger bully, and beat the living daylights out of him.
No, the problem lies solely with a league that shoots from the hip with fines and suspensions, all while saying they are being firm and fair and — are you sitting down for this? — consistent.
The only thing consistent in the NFL today is inconsistency. Sadly, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent is about the only human being on the planet who is unaware of that truth.
Exhibit A: Packers tight end Richard Rogers was fined for a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers safety Sean Davis just last week. But no suspension.
Exhibit B: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ hit on Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo just one day before Smith-Schuster laid out Burfict is so similar, it looks like someone simply screwed with the color settings on the television set. As of now, no punishment of any kind has been handed down.
To really make it all as bad as it can be, the league has, in two simple communications, contradicted itself on the reasoning behind the Smith-Schuster decision — which was subsequently upheld on appeal.
In the letter sent from NFL Vice President for Policy & Rules Administration Jon Runyan to the young receiver, Runyan specifically calls out the taunting. A day later, though, Vincent stated that the taunting was not part of the consideration, and that it was based solely on the hit. The left hand truly does not know what the right hand is doing.
We won’t get into how screwed up the appeals process is. Just know that James Thrash, who heard and decided on the appeal of Smith-Schuster, is not the same person who overturned the suspension of multiple offender George Iloka, whose hit on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was entirely helmet-to-helmet on someone who was the very definition of a defenseless player. That was Derrick Brooks. It’s not a committee, and it’s not even the same player each time. Instead, they are simply appointed to hear and decide.
The problem is the players agreed to this mess, mostly because their representation at the bargaining table either lacked sense or a backbone — or both. But, if it continues down this arbitrary path, where punishments shift with the winds and tides, enough players will be fed up with the process that all hell will break loose.
One can hope, at least.