In recent years, the NFL has experienced a greater concern with regard to player safety than has been seen in the history of the league. Much of this concern stems from the condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In layman’s terms, this condition is better known as the “too many nasty blows to the head” syndrome. As most of you probably know, this condition can cause adverse behavior later in life for those who suffer from it. Some examples of these traits include irrational or aggressive behavior, dementia and depression. In May 2012, Junior Seau committed suicide via gunshot wound to the chest and was later determined to have suffered from this condition. It has also been shown that many former hockey players, boxers and others are seen to suffer from this head trauma.
To combat this tragic side effect of aggressive contact sports, the NFL has instituted penalties ranging from fines to suspensions for actions such as hitting a defenseless player and targeting the head or neck area. These policies have been met by criticism and were parodied brilliantly in South Park’s 2012 episode “Sarcastaball”, in which fourth grade elementary school football players end up wearing bras and complimenting each other instead of wearing equipment and tackling the ball carrier. It is obvious that the NFL should take action to ensure that its alumni are not miserable later in life, but there are those who question how far violence in the game should be scaled back. Personally, I strongly hope that NFL players can live normal, happy lives after their careers, but it’s a step too far if the U.S. Army is called in to set up a defensive perimeter around Tom Brady every time he sustains a boo-boo.
On top of the fines and suspensions being handed out for overzealous hitting, the league has been cracking down on on-field celebrations and taunting in an ever increasing manner since the days of Terrell “wow he finally retired” Owens and Chad Johnson, I mean Ochocinco, I mean Johnson, or whatever he is calling himself this month. Excessive celebration has been a frequently called penalty in recent seasons as certain actions like using props and mocking the opposing team have been determined to be unsportsmanlike.
The penalties for illegal hitting and taunting are frequently handed out and this behavior doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. After all, with regards to illegal hits, it’s an aggressive, full contact game and a perfectly formed tackle isn’t always an option. Considering taunting and celebrating, obviously this behavior isn’t going to disappear, it’s a professional sport played by professional athletes, not an A.A. meeting or etiquette convention. Additionally, taunting/celebrating and illegal hits are just two examples of actions and behavior for which players are fined and suspended by the all-powerful and all-knowing Roger Goodell. There are numerous other examples ranging from abusive treatment of officials, substance abuse and uniform and equipment violations. Here is a list of the NFL players whose paychecks took the biggest hits in the 2013 season due to fines and suspensions.
10. Michael Griffin: Lost $226,882
Hard hitting Michael Griffin of the Tennessee Titans starts out this list after his two penalties for illegal hits in weeks 4 and 11. In week 4, he hit the New York Jets’ Stephen Hill on a play that culminated in an interception. Hill was left with a concussion and did not return to the game. Later in the season, Griffin hammered the Raiders’ Mychal Rivera on a long passing play. This being his second offense of the year, he was issued a single game suspension, while only a fine was issued for the hit on Hill. Griffin defended his actions both times in roughly the same fashion by arguing that rules about hitting produced a catch-22 for defenders who are now forced to choose between being fined and letting the offense have a completed pass. His early season defense was more convincing because he argued there was no way for a tight end to be defenseless during an interception play. Either way, his play led to two players sustaining concussions in 2013 and ended up with a miniscule hit to his $3.5 million salary.
9. Mike Goodson: Lost $250,253
This one just makes me laugh. Mike Goodson of the Jets was suspended during the preseason in 2013 for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policies. His suspension cost him just over a quarter million dollars over four games missed during the start of the season. The car in which he was traveling as a passenger was pulled over in New Jersey, at which point he was found to be in possession of marijuana and a loaded 45 caliber handgun. On top of the drug charge and unlawful handgun charge, the gun was found to have been loaded with hollow point bullets, the kind that are designed to “mushroom” or expand on impact, maximizing destructive capability. The part at which I start laughing is when it is pointed out that he was “incoherent” when addressing the officers and was so intoxicated that he had “clearly thrown up on himself”.
8. Weslye Saunders: Lost $261,176
In another off season suspension, Colts’ tight end Weslye Saunders received 8 games in 2013 for his second offense, testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. He had a prior offense in 2012 that had cost him a 4 game suspension while playing for Pittsburgh. After this incident he claimed that it would not happen again, announcing that his performance enhancing drug adventure was “a one-time thing” that he had “learned from”; apparently not. His troubles started out in his college football years, as he was chronically in trouble while at South Carolina. The Colts signed him again after his eight game suspension was completed.
7. Jo-Lonn Dunbar: Lost $305,882
Rams’ linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar is another player who received a suspension in 2013 for a performance enhancing drug violation. Upon the announcement of this suspension, he was cut by St. Louis, but upon the completion of his time he was re-signed. Dunbar was a starter for the Rams prior to his suspension and was second on the defense with regard to tackles in 2012. He also led the team in that year in tackles for a loss. He argued in his own defense that he was not a user of performance enhancing substances. He also claimed that, according to his trainers, it may have been a non-banned substance that he took that led to skewed results of his drug test.
6. Antonio Smith: Lost $368,691
Number six is Antonio Smith, the former Pro Bowl defensive end for the Houston Texans. He committed two infractions in 2013 which caused him to have a large hit to his paycheck. His first infraction led to a one week suspension during the preseason when he fought Richie Incognito, whose exploits I will review soon, of Miami. He took Incognito’s helmet off and attempted to beat him with it. His second penalty was dealt during week 12 against the Jaguars for a hit that looked more like an attempt to decapitate quarterback Chad Henne.
5. Dashon Goldson: Lost $454,705
Dashon Goldson had a great season this year for the Bucs but still fell short of his goal of having half a million dollars in fines and lost wages. In the first two weeks of the season, he racked up over $100,000 in fines, mangling Jets’ tight end Jeff Cumberland in week 1 and just a week later exacting an even more violent, helmet to helmet hit on Saints’ running back Darren Sproles. The hit on Sproles originally earned Goldson a one game suspension, but that was overturned and a fine was issued instead. Not to worry though, he earned that suspension in week 10 when he went after Roddy White’s head in the second quarter of the Buccaneers/Falcons game. Not wanting to end on a low note, Goldson rounded out his season’s quest for fines when he delivered another helmet to helmet hit, this time targeting Stedman Bailey of the Rams.
4. Richie Incognito: Lost $470,588
In a previous article, I referred to Richie Incognito as “The Team Building Expert”. This time I will refer to him as Richie “The Civil Rights Activist” Incognito. The offensive line drama of the Miami Dolphins is a particularly interesting topic right now, as Incognito has very recently indicated that in his opinion, Jonathan Martin was just as vulgar and aggressive towards him as he was to Martin. On top of this claim, Incognito announced that he has hired a public relations firm that he believes will be able to absolve him of some of the bad press he received this season. He has backed up his claim by presenting the media with text messages that seem to indicate that the two were on friendly terms and were equally offensive in the locker room environment. Whatever the outcome of this situation, Richie Incognito’s suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, issued by Miami, puts him at number four on the list, losing just under half a million in 2013.
3. Daryl Washington: Lost $585,706
Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington is number three on this list, being fined once and receiving one large suspension in 2013’s off season. He had a very eventful off season last year as he was also charged with assault in May 2013 for allegedly breaking his girlfriend’s collarbone. Prior to that incident, he was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He was apologetic and did nothing to try to defend his actions. With regards to his suspension, he acknowledged the fact that he had made a mistake, had disappointed his fans and his teammates and promised to do everything in his power to redeem himself. His suspension was particularly painful for Arizona, as he led the team in tackles in 2012 and is arguably one of the best young linebackers in the league. Rounding out the fines he received this year was the $21,000 fine he received for manhandling Cam Newton in week 5.
2. Von Miller: Lost $831,161
This was a rough season for Von Miller. He was suspended during the off season in 2013 for allegedly trying to cheat a drug test. The two-time pro bowler was suspended for six games and although he played well upon his return, he suffered a torn ACL against Houston back in December. His suspension cost him just north of $800,000 in lost wages. His other fine in 2013 was roughing the passer in week 14 when he wrecked Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Titans with a helmet to helmet hit. Miller is no stranger to such fines, as he has yet to play a season of professional football without getting a “roughing the passer” fine.
1. Justin Blackmon: Lost $941,700
Jacksonville wide receiver Justin Blackmon had a rough year this year, getting hit with two suspensions for substance abuse. This has become a pattern for the young star, that has been happening since his college years. He was suspended for four games in the off season last year and was suspended indefinitely in early November this year. Reports claim that the Jaguars organization is supporting him in his journey to modify his behavior and habits. It will be interesting to see if Blackmon can turn things around, because he has star potential and will be able to really help their organization if he can screw his head on straight.
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