The aftermath: no suspension, no fine, for Chargers’ hit on Bradford

Kevin Burnett, family man

Would you take tens of thousands of dollars from this guy? From those kids?

After an exhausting 36 hours of tweets and counter-tweets, blowing up everyone’s timeline with concussion stats (leather-helmeted rugby is more brain-dangerous than football, it turns out), NFL rules debates (was Bradford “defenseless,” and does it matter?), testimonials from players, fans, and a few intelligent folks just trying to stand in the middle of this thing and sort it all out… we’ve arrived at the point in time when the league has made its ruling and we make a temporary peace with it.

And after threatening immediate suspensions, the league reached into the pockets of Dunta Robinson, Brandon Meriweather, and James Harrison, but left Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett alone.

Why the difference? For one, Bradford got up from his hit and kept playing, when DeSean Jackson, Todd Heap, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi could not. (Heap did return to the field later.) For another, Kevin Burnett — an oft-injured linebacker on his second team in four years — doesn’t have much history of cheap or dirty play. (He looks like a nice guy, doesn’t he?)

Before the verdict was handed down, Burnett himself chimed in on the issue:

“I think it would be totally unfair for the league to begin to use disciplinary actions and to take away the way that somebody provides for their family because they play the game too hard.”

That said, #1 on the Charging Bolts’ list of five good things to take away from this game? Kevin Burnett might kill somebody.” Clearly, the league is in a tough spot. We love the violence until it gets too violent. And by “we,” I mean the league, the fans, and even the players themselves.

Sam Farmer of the LA Times spoke to several Chargers after the game, and found that this dichotomy extends even within the locker room.

As of Monday afternoon, Burnett hadn’t seen the hits Harrison delivered on Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. He did, however, check on the one Robinson had on Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson — a collision that drew a flag for unnecessary roughness and knocked both players out of the game with concussions. “Wasn’t a dirty hit,” Burnett said. “Was a legal hit.”

But Burnett wouldn’t have to go too far to find someone with a different perspective on the issue. Just across the locker room is Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton, who knows the feeling of being defenseless and exposed with a tackler looking to separate his head from his body.

“When you come in to tackle, sometimes helmets collide,” Crayton said. “But when a guy’s suspended in the air, and you launch yourself at his head, come on now.”

— LA Times: “Players try to absorb NFL’s helmet-to-helmet actions

We also have to recognize that the league itself wants to sell the violence of the sport. (Sometimes, a little too literally, as in selling photos of James Harrison’s knockout blow.)

It’s also not, as [Peter] King writes, “the culture” that celebrates this violence. It’s the NFL itself. The video games that the NFL promotes and sponsors deliriously dramatize brutal tackles. Highlight shows on the NFL Network, relish the moments when players get “jacked up.” Anyone who saw HBO’s Hard Knocks, their behind the scenes look at the New York Jets preseason, heard it loud and clear. Whenever a player would “jack-up” the opposition, Coach Rex Ryan would whoop and yell, “That’s a guy who wants to make this team!” — NPR’s The Nation: “Violence comes to a head in the NFL

My own gut reaction to this play — it burned in me, even after I’d finished writing a 2000-word game recap, to the point that I felt compelled to write the companion piece just on the one hit — was stirred by having seen it in in person, at the Dome.

We saw Bradford alone, on an island, and Burnett closing like an interceptor missile. We saw the collision, and Bradford’s helmet spinning off. And the crowd got quiet as the referees dallied and Bradford picked himself up. Then we watched it again, on the jumbotron. And the Dome filled with a single unified roar of injustice.

The decision to replay that hit to the crowd, in slow motion from the sideline camera, was no innocent gesture. It was meant to fire us up, to enrage the 12th man, to fuel us in playing our part in defending the Dome. And it damn well worked. The crowd was a factor all game long, something you can’t always say about Rams home games. Walking out of there with a victory, we were exhilarated and still enraged and feeling as though we had just come out of a fight… and won. Isn’t that the way we should feel? Isn’t that what we paid our money for?

In the cold light of day, I still watch the video of Burnett’s hit and wonder how it wasn’t flagged. The league “sent a strong message” with today’s ruling, though not necessarily the one it thinks.

Picture 7

The so-called “emphatic message” here is: no blood, no foul. Bradford got up, got his helmet, got back in the huddle and got the win. And in the process, he saved Kevin Burnett about 50 grand.