The game of football has always been a violent sport. The clashing of gladiators, dueling until the bitter end, has become America’s favorite pastime. But, there’s a glitch in the system. A sport that has its roots in brutality is becoming a mockery of itself. Is this charade purely media hype or a tangible problem? The NFL claims it’s a tackling problem. The Pittsburgh Steelers claim the problem is Vontaze Burfict. Who’s right?
Burfict has been the hot topic of conversation since his untimely hit on Antonio Brown. The “hit” leveled Brown and caused him to miss the Steelers Divisional Round game against the Denver Broncos. But the incident has since been addressed by two Steelers.
Former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has said on separate occasions that the hit was clean. Once, via the NFL Network, Taylor was comical about the blow. He knew his view of Burfict’s tackle would anger some fans, but he didn’t back down.
“It’s the chicken wing, right there. That’s a clean hit. They’re (Steeler fans and the media) going to be mad at me but I feel like it’s a clean hit. It’s just… it’s Burfict. His resumé and his reputation represent him as a dirty player.”
Taylor’s defense of Burfict seems odd. Being a former Steeler, it would seem he has more to lose. Pittsburgh fans are a wild and close-knit bunch. Seeing one of their family members backing Burfict would amount to being a traitor. His statement clearly backs the idea that the media and Steelers are targeting Burfict.
Not long ago, a current Steeler, James Harrison, had his moments with Roger Goodell. Like Burfict, Harrison was labeled as a dirty player. There was a point in time when Harrison’s style of play was raising questions about whether it’s possible to stay within the rules and also play dirty. After meetings with the commissioner, his out of control play settled down.
Harrison’s delight in “dishing out pain” was openly expressed, per ESPN. Fans will remember that Harrison did a stint with the Bengals and served as Burfict’s mentor during the 2013 season.
Per the The Patriot-News, Harrison admits that Burfict is not out of control as the media claims. Opponents may be upset with the way Burfict plays the game, but Harrison says he gets it. He understands his approach.
“To some people, it may look out of control… It’s not — I don’t think anybody’s out of control is what I’m saying.”
Mike Mitchell was called a dirty player as recently as last year. His hit on Niners running back Carlos Hyde was a low, gruesome blow. His reputation for delivering potentially career-ending punishment is well documented. Yet, Steelers players and fans will always say it’s just good fundamental football.
Mitchell said he was going to start targeting knees after being called for unnecessary roughness against the Ravens in 2014. The statement should have been addressed by the NFL but failed to cause a ripple.
“It’s going to make me start hitting everyone in the knees, to be totally honest with you.”
Does the NFL turn a blind eye to the Steelers but find redemption in suspending Burfict? Some purists of the game are saying it’s a bold PR move by Rodger Goodell. Burfict just happens to be the current flavor of choice.
Mitchell understood the problem at one time. He was well aware of how things get blown out of context. At one point, he called out Goodell and the NFL.
“To be honest, I think there is a little bit of a targeting system they have out. I think I’m one of the guys they’d been looking for, but I’m OK with that.”
In no way is Vontaze Burfict innocent of the boneheaded decisions he made. Yet, why is he held to a higher standard than others? What’s the difference between Mitchell’s transgressions and those of Burfict? Maybe it’s the color of the jerseys they wear.
[Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images]