Player safety first? It’s hard to believe, with no fine of Douglas
Three days after he tumbled to the ground and grabbed his knee in pain, Chris Harris was still irked by Harry Douglas’ hit to that knee.
The knee is fine, Harris said. The bleeding and pain he experienced last Sunday at Tennessee has subsided. But why he experienced any at all — why he was at risk of major injury when he was far removed from the play — is what still eats at the Broncos’ star cornerback.
“To go directly at my knee like that, I’d expect (the NFL) to look at that,” Harris said.
The play was not flagged in the game. The fight that was instigated by Aqib Talib on the next play did not result in ejections or suspensions or anything more than a personal foul.
Douglas’ hit was legal. But it was so dirty.
“One-thousand percent,” Shannon Sharpe said on FS1’s “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless. “And when I played, had someone did that to my defensive back and I saw it, I’m going to get their defensive back. I believe in eye for an eye. So you try to injure my guy. I’m definitely going to try to injure one of yours.”
The written rules of the NFL may be the only ones that can dictate the play of the game and penalties that result. But they aren’t the only ones that should matter, especially in regard to player safety.
“There is an unwritten law in this game that you don’t try to take someone’s livelihood, especially when he doesn’t have any impact on the play at that point,” Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “That’s like the quarterback throwing the ball and it’s an incomplete pass and I hit him anyway. That’s kind of the same thing. I’m really disappointed in the fact that people would even consider that being OK.
“It’s one thing if he hits him and knocks him on the ground. It’s another when he tries to take his knee out. He is trying to take him out of the game, and that’s so clear when you watch it on film. How can that be OK? How is that OK to try and take someone’s livelihood?”
Douglas’ complete disregard for Harris’ health and career is what stung most. It’s what set off Talib, and it’s what drew an outpouring of support from Harris’ teammates on his behalf. It’s what left Harris fuming, days after the play unfolded.
What should sting more is the NFL’s quiet approval. Douglas was not fined for his cheap shot. Nor was Talib.
Yet two quarters after Harris’ career flashed before his eyes, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders scored the Broncos’ lone touchdown of the day and was flagged for his choreographed celebration. The Broncos were penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, Sanders got an earful from coach Gary Kubiak and, later in the week, Sanders was fined $12,154, the minimum for a first offense of unsportsmanlike conduct. Sanders’ banned behavior? Pretending to be a baseball pitcher.
The NFL has a fine schedule that is collectively bargained with players and creates baselines for conduct each year. The league says it reviews every play of every game, and is notified of infractions either by an official’s calls during a game or by submissions from teams after.
“Obviously I disagree with the play,” Kubiak said early last week. “I’ll take my opinion to the league and deal with it from that standpoint.”
Player safety shouldn’t be a matter of opinion, though. There shouldn’t be any dispute. Douglas should have faced some sort of penalty — one bigger than Sanders’ celebration fine — for risking the health of Harris.
Player safety is supposed to be and should be the NFL’s biggest priority. The league continues to say it is, but its claim is hard to believe when curtailing celebrations appears to be more important than preventing injurious plays.
“They talk about player safety this, player safety that,” Wolfe said. “Look at what happened to Chris. If that guy was serious about wanting to keep him away from the play, he would have hit him in his chest. No, he was trying to physically injure, not hurt. Hurt and injure are different. When someone is trying to injure me and take my livelihood, this is how I feed my family. This is my life.”