On the wall next to my bed at my Boston-area home, I have a Fathead of Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski. For New England Patriots fans, Gronk has been one of the most fun players to watch — from his ability to drag defenders with him to his jovial celebrations. On a team led by the always-serious Bill Belichick, Gronkowski has provided a party-like atmosphere.
But last week, he took his passion game too far. Against the Buffalo Bills, Gronk took his anger at the officiating out on Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White. After the play (in which he was held) ended, Gronkowski jumped on White, who was already on the ground. White got a concussion, and Gronk got a one-game suspension.
Now, Patriots fans are calling for the less-than-durable Gronkowski to sit out of the next game against the Bills out of fear that there will be retaliation for his actions.
Also last week, the Bengals-Steelers game featured several purposefully violent hits. The game resulted in more than $60,000 in fines in addition to suspensions. It continues a multi-year rivalry between the teams that seems to always result in fines or suspensions.
This is not football at its best. I like football because of the deep strategy behind it, the potential for exciting games, the feeling that every game matters, and the many different types of athleticism and dominance that players, like Gronkowski, can show.
These malicious hits are not in the name of strategy, excitement, or athleticism. They are beyond what we can reasonably ask athletes to endure. Football players should not have to fear getting a concussion when they’re already on the ground after a play. And they also shouldn’t have to fear retaliation and a spiral of violence between rivals.
All three players suspended for hits last week (Rob Gronkowski, George Iloka, and JuJu Smith-Schuster) appealed their punishments to the league office. I never understand why the NFL Players Association always comes to the defense of the person who filed the appeal.
The goal of the NFLPA is to protect the players, not to argue for lower sentences for players who injured others. Furthermore, all of those hits were on defenseless players. The NFLPA has spent countless hours and legal fees to secure millions of dollars in settlements for health issues resulting from concussions. Despite the NFLPA working to protect the players, it defended the hard-hitters. And despite Commissioner Roger Goodell’s pledge that player safety is the NFL’s highest priority, George Iloka’s suspension was reduced to just a fine.
It’s obvious that football is a violent sport. Many people like that, including the players. But it is bad for the integrity of the game of football to have horrible hits, rather than electrifying plays, take over the game.