A Pro Wrestling Verdict From Pro Football
Had they done this to each other on the street, they would've gotten jail time.
Convicted Tennessee Titan thug Cortland Finnegan and Houston wideout Andre Johnson traded haymakers Sunday before getting tossed from the fray. The video went viral and lept from the sports page into the Monday morning news shows. This wasn't your typical sports dust-up. It was a street fight.
The NFL, which routinely fines players big money for violating for uniform miscues (not having socks pulled all the way up and other crimes against fashion) was expected to lower the boom on Finnegan and Johnson, the thinking being that such behavior has no place on the pro gridiron. Virtually every wag with a pen or a mike predicted not only monetary punishment but also sit-downs of varying length, the minimum being one game.
All they got...were fines.
$25,000 is a lot of coin to you and I, but it's pocket change for a pro athlete. Johnson and Finnegan probably have that kind of cash between their sofa cushions. The league's fine is laughable in it's lack of teeth and scary because of something else: Johnson and the Texans play the Eagles Thursday night, a game you can only see on The NFL Network. Conventional wisdom is that The Shield wants The Star (Johnson) to ensure the competitive integrity of the game it'll be hosting.
This, friends, is a slippery slope.
The fine is a joke and the timing is, at the very least, suspect. This is what happens when a sport gets into the television business. We already have seen what TV has done to the flow of games, with unnecessary time-outs that turn what should be a two-hour contest into a three and a half hour slog that destroys team momentum and flow. It's the tail wagging the dog, but now the pendulum swings the other way, with a league going light on a fine to make sure a star is in the spotlight on it's own channel.
Uneven discipline is maddening when it's unintentional. It's a crime when it happens on purpose. The NFL's decision doesn't pass the smell test, and it's sure to come up again if/when two more players decide to beat on each other after the whistle. Those combatants will have every right in the world to question a possible suspension, pointing to the leniency The Shield showed to multiple-offender Finnegan and Johnson, who the league apparently decided is indispensable Thursday night.
CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN pay huge rights fees to the NFL. What are those customers going to think the next time the league has to put the hammer down ahead of a huge game one of those networks is hosting?
A sport has nothing if it doesn't have it's integrity. Fans can't think games are fixed. What happened Sunday is nothing close to the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but it sets an ugly precedent. Punishment has to be handed out fairly and evenly, with no thought given to outside considerations, even if it's the governing body that stands to lose a little money. What's cash, when compared to credibility?
It's the kind of move that makes pro wrestling look honest.