In the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Colts, Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict saw tight end Jack Doyle cradling a catch while balancing on his knees and did what he has been quietly encouraged to do throughout his career: He bolted from about five yards away and struck Doyle square in the helmet without the slightest attempt to alter his angle.
There are cases every week where players have legitimate gripes about the restrictiveness of the modern professional football game. It’s impossible to fathom the real-time speed of an NFL play and thus, it’s impossible—and sometimes even more dangerous—for a defender to slow down simply to consider the trajectory of his launching body.
But this hit, just like almost every other in Burfict’s career, was done out of malice. It is his unique, scummy brand of toughness. It is what only the most dated and mentally inward coaches would covet anymore in some strange effort to bring back the parts of football that rendered a generation of good people to walking medical time bombs.
For once, the NFL did something right by, on Monday, banning Burfict for the remainder of the season. Here’s hoping it will turn into an unofficial, permanent expulsion. The Raiders, perhaps the only remaining team obsessed with conjuring the past and forming some silly and ultimately ineffective identity, may have been the last stop on the way out of town for someone like that, anyway.
In many ways, it would be more satisfying and effective to see teams simply ignore Burfict altogether when he is ready to play again, taking away his ability to go down as a martyr for some ridiculous misrepresentation of a largely beautiful game.
To say we couldn’t have seen this coming, that Burfict is somehow misunderstood or singled out, is laughable. Join us for a look back at his previous infractions with the NFL (via the league’s research department):
2018: Lowering a helmet mid-tackle
2018: Unnecessary roughness
2017: Hit on a defenseless player
2017: Unsportsmanlike conduct
2016: Leg stomp
2016: Accumulation of multiple “unsportsmanlike incidents”
2016: Hit on a defenseless player
2015: Accumulation of unsportsmanlike issues
2014: Twisting an ankle
2013: Hit on a defenseless player
2013: Striking a player in the groin
For years, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said “that's just the way he plays,” and praised the linebacker for hitting like a “cement truck.” People in his circle disciplined him only out of administrative necessity; in an effort to keep up appearances. Thus, the hits kept on coming. The Raiders awarded him as one of their team captains headed into the 2019 season.
We are, not by a longshot, perfect when it comes to dealing with injuries as an NFL community. Earlier this week on Thursday Night Football, we watched two players, one each from the Packers and Eagles, get carted off the field on stabilizing boards. One of the hits in particular, by Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett, saw him smash the helmet of a running back already in the grasp of another defender. It deserved righteous indignation. What it got, largely, was announcers and analysts treating the moment like the point in a family dinner when opposing politics are brought up. An awkward acknowledgement, and an expedited exit back to more peaceful topics.
Perhaps the only positive about the Burfict news, other than the peace of mind knowing that he won’t be on the field for the rest of the season, is that it brings these type of hits into the forefront at a time when a more malleable generation of players are filtering into the NFL. Burfict is the distillation of everything that is poisonous about the league’s on-field culture and could serve as a mirror for similar players headed down the path of your typical NHL-style goon.
It is consistently mind boggling, given the astronomically high risk of injury, that any player would consistently and purposefully look to raise the chance of injury with a hit. Here's to the idea that the only time we'll see Burfict tape again is on a reel shown by the game's officials to warn players of who not to become.
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