Player safety first? It’s hard to be­lieve, with no fine of Dou­glas

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala, The Den­ver Post Nicki Jhab­vala: njhab­vala @den­ver­ or @Nick­iJhab­vala

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.”

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