Opinion, Sports

Protecting the shield

If I’ve had one problem with the NFL this year, it’s been all the inconsistency. But I’m not talking about the New York Giants’ hide-and-seek offense, or inconsistency in the quality of play—after all, the Thursday night games have been consistently terrible. I’m talking about the decisions made by officials—both on the field and in the league office.

Live MikeThe games this past weekend really shined a light on some of the inexplicable decisions made by the NFL, both in terms of flags thrown and fines levied. The story, perhaps, that got the most airtime was probably the penalization—and subsequent lack of a fine—for Zeke Elliot’s “Salvation Army” celebration.

In case you missed it, Elliot, Dallas’ phenomenal rookie running back, scored a touchdown against Tampa Bay and, in a particularly inspired post-score bit, ran over to a large Salvation Army kettle on the sidelines and hopped inside it. As with all celebrations involving a prop, the stunt was immediately flagged and most viewers assumed that Elliot would be fined by the league for his antics.

But the NFL, after some deliberation, decreed that the running back’s antics would not affect his wallet, deeming that it simply brought more exposure to the Salvation Army charity that has some affiliation with the league—and with Elliot’s Cowboys.

Now, I don’t care that Elliot wasn’t fined. I have no problem with NFL players showing a little creativity when it comes to touchdown celebrations, and I think the league would be better off if they allowed players to show off their personality some more. But this is the same league that fined Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. for gesturing as if he were taking a picture of teammate Victor Cruz after a touchdown, something Beckham pointed out on Twitter.

“That’s funny that there’s no fine for that,” Beckham tweeted. “I could only imagine if I was the one to do it.”

And he’s not the only player who thinks that the league is selective in enforcing some of its rules.

On Monday night, Cam Newton, who probably takes more of a beating than any other quarterback in the NFL not named Ben Roethlisberger, was hit in the head by a Redskins defender as he slid, feet first on the field, a play distinctly verboten under today’s NFL rules.

Over the last few seasons, the NFL has come under fire for its perceived selectivity in enforcing its own rules. Sports Editor Mike Smith believes that maybe the league’s lack of transparency is hurting its bottom line. Photo courtesy NFL.com
Over the last few seasons, the NFL has come under fire for its perceived selectivity in enforcing its own rules. Sports Editor Mike Smith believes that maybe the league’s lack of transparency is hurting its bottom line. Photo courtesy NFL.com

There was no flag on the hit, however, but Newton—who has repeatedly complained about officials allowing him to be targeted illegally—was penalized for tossing the ball at the player who took the cheap shot.

I can only imagine Newton’s frustration a quarter later, as a completely legal hit on his Redskins’ counterpart drew a flag and extended a drive for Washington.

These are just the latest in a long line of inexplicable decisions made by the league. Many—mostly Pats fans—believe that the Giants, who were just found guilty of illegal walkie-talkie use during their game two weeks ago against Dallas, got off lightly with a small fine and a downgraded fourth-round pick for their transgressions. Some players, like the Jets’ Sheldon Richardson, are able to lead police on a high speed chase, fail drug tests and face only a four-game suspension, while others, like the Bills’ Seantrel Henderson, has to miss 10 games for a second failed drug test—even though it has been well documented that Henderson uses marijuana to treat his Crohn’s disease.

Viewing numbers for football have been down this season, and the league is scrambling to find out why. In my mind, it’s not the oversaturation of games during the week, a lack of compelling prime time match-ups, or a dearth of star power that is hurting the league.

I think that fans are starting to realize that the NFL is less concerned with adjudicating fair punishments and more concerned with “protecting the shield.”

Now if they could only figure out what that meant.

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