Week after week, the NFL is seemingly mocked by the general public for its officiating gaffes and the way it handles player fines. More often than not the fines are understandable under the context of league rules.
Yet there are also times when commissioner Rodger Goodell and his supporting staff absolutely blow it.
Today’s fine that was handed down to San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks was an instance where the league absolutely blew it. Sure, a questionable call will surely raise a few eyebrows because of a certain grey area that is associated with it, but what was the NFL’s premise for fining Brooks?
What type of message was the league trying to send? Was the NFL doing everything in its power to protect the safety of quarterback Drew Brees, or was it trying to back up its officiating crew to save face? Obviously, we will never know the true answers to those questions, but it’s safe to say we know where its allegiance lies.
The league has proven over the years, especially under Goodell’s watch, that it will always take the necessary steps to protect the shield and everything it stands for. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the NFL still doesn’t know how to police the game objectively.
When you take the time to impartially analyze the play, you can confidently come to a conclusion based on the verbiage in the NFL rule book. According to Article 7 of the rule book, Brooks' hit falls under the following prohibition:
Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet or facemask is lower than the passer’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.
Whether the rule is right or wrong is truly irrelevant, because the official made the right call in regards to the rule book. Yet, the official didn’t describe in real time whether the yellow flag was thrown due to roughing the passer or a hit on a defenseless player.
This, in turn, leaves Brooks’ fine open to interpretation. Why? Because the minimum fines for roughing the passer and a hit on a defenseless player are completely different. In accordance to the NFL’s press release in 2011, a player can be fined $15,000 to $30,000 for a roughing-the-passer penalty, while a penalty for hitting a defenseless player can cost the perpetrator $20,000 to $40,000.
Brooks was fined $15,750, so we can only assume that his hit on Brees falls under the category of roughing the passer. Nonetheless, without any type of specific explanation, there’s no real way to tell why he was fined $15,750.
This just goes to show that the NFL will continue to act the way it wants to act and do the things it wants to do.
Yes, Brooks can appeal the fine, but the likelihood of his fine being reversed is slim to none. The league office feels the penalty was properly enforced, and the NFL wouldn't admit its mistake even if it felt that it erroneously fined Brooks.
Moreover, it’s evident that fans and media members alike would be more accepting and tolerant of such calls and fines if the league would simply explain its stance in detail or admit its wrongs. Until that day happens, Goodell and his staff should adequately prepare themselves for the backlash that follows such controversial actions.
Also, the NFL needs to work on better policing the game on a per-play basis. Undoubtedly, guidelines are put in place for a reason, because without them there would be chaos. But there are certain instances (like Brooks' hit on Brees) where a questionable call won’t fall within the league’s guidelines.
Overall, the process as whole could easily be described as sloppy.
The sooner the NFL cleans up its act and spends more time reviewing dubious plays, the better off the league will be. As far as the NFL has come since its inception, it still has a long way to go in terms of officiating and establishing a reliable play-review process.