WASHINGTON, December 30, 2011 — If one really needed any more signs that the NFL is a business, then the round of fines levied today against New Orleans Saints’ running back Pierre Thomas should do the trick quite nicely. In a move right in line with the creativity-hating trend set this year, the NFL fined Thomas a total of $12,500 for various key indiscretions. The 27-year-old’s sin? He wore red and green armbands in a game played the night after Christmas, and he placed a gold bow on the football after scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons.
In fact, scarcely a week has gone by this season, or any of the past five seasons, without seeing a fine for some sort of end-zone celebration. Now, fines for illegal hits are much rarer than celebratory fines. The message is this: It’s more important to discourage people from demeaning the violent nature of football by trying to inject passion of a different type, than it is to combat excess violence. See, if the NFL leadership cracked down on illegal and unnecessary hits as often as they cracked down on these disruptive and disreputable celebrations, there would be outrage. And of course, by outrage, we mean less bone-crunching excitement and, gasp, lower revenues from fewer fans tuning in to watch brute force.
On a serious note, there is something very wrong with a system that punishes innocuous expressions of joy with fines almost as high as those imposed for a defensive player hitting a quarterback in the head. Houston Texans’ defensive end Antonio Smith received a $15K fine for a hit on Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan earlier this month. The fact that $15K (sometimes $20K) seems to be the standard fine for defenders without a history—in other words not named James Harrison or Ndamukong Suh—while $10K is the baseline for most touchdown celebrations displays a blatant misplacement of priorities.
In all fairness, the NFL has taken huge strides towards combating the volume of dangerous hits. But progress is stagnating at a point where fines are still at levels inconsequential to the paychecks of players. Sure, $15,000 sounds like a lot to the fan making $60,000 a year, but to men making five times as much per game, it’s merely a cost of doing business. Plus, the fixation on fining and penalizing excessive celebration does nothing but hurt the league’s image, pointing as it does to an obsession for flagging individualism in a pack game, rather than focusing on true problems.
Perhaps concerns about injuries don’t need to be voiced more than they already have been. The list of former players whose deaths have been linked to traumas suffered on the football field doesn’t need to be repeated endlessly. Or maybe it does and maybe they do. After decades, NFL leaders still haven’t gotten the message that turning a blind eye hurts everyone inside and outside the game. They say it will take time, but let’s face it, they’ve been given time. And lives. But at least trouble-makers like Thomas have been put in their places and reminded that the real problem is glorifying an act that doesn’t end with at least one player lying in a heap.
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