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Celebration or lamentation? Jets fans wrong either way after Geno incident

The Geno Smith-IK Enemkpali locker-room punch incident lit up the NFL, especially among the Jets faithful. Most New York fans have either celebrated it or used it to lament their team's troubles, but both responses miss the mark.

DETROIT — Like so many people over the years, I attended a New York Jets game Thursday to see if anybody got punched in the face. It didn’t happen, as far as I could tell, though to be honest, I kind of lost track of the action early in the first quarter. I never really regained my focus, because preseason football is awful. Of course, preseason anything is awful. But for some reason, preseason football seems appealing until we actually watch it.

Anyway, it’s the Jets’ time of year, and they really outdid themselves this week when linebacker IK Enemkpali slugged quarterback Geno Smith over a $600 debt, breaking Smith’s jaw and leaving the starting quarterback job to a guy who went to Harvard. (I don’t know who writes this stuff, but they’re really good.)

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Jets fans seemed to have two reactions to this news:

1. “Yay!”

2. “J! I! N! X! Jets! Jets Jets!”

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Let’s take these one at a time. First, the yays. The New York Daily News went with this headline: “LUCK OF THE JAW! Jets fans rejoice as QB out 6-10 weeks.” The website FiveThirtyEight went with the less clever, more straightforward, “Jets Fans Should Be Happy Geno Smith got punched in the face.” That headline was later changed, and we all write bad headlines once in a while, but still, I feel like we are forgetting an important detail in this story:


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Seriously, what the heck is wrong with us? Geno Smith is a real person. I know the plot line makes him seem fictional, but it’s true. Maybe Smith should have paid Enemkpali the $600, and maybe he was a jerk about it—I suspect we’ll hear slightly different versions of the same story for weeks. But even if Smith was wrong about the financial dispute, he doesn’t deserve to have his jaw broken. It’s disturbing to see people celebrate a serious injury like that.

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And yes, as a matter of fact: I have seen Geno Smith play quarterback in the NFL. He is not good. He will probably never be good. I get it. That doesn’t mean you celebrate him breaking his jaw. Nothing sums up the NFL quite like this: Rex Ryan’s Bills quickly claimed the guy who threw the punch. If the Jets had released Smith, too, would the Bills have picked him up? I doubt it.

Now, on to the jinx … well, “jinx” is probably not the right word. It’s more of a sense that random bad things happen more often to the Jets than to winning teams.

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Fans of losing teams often think this. Most of the Lions fans at Thursday’s preseason game have probably thought it at some point. Heck, one of the Lions’ captains for the game was long snapper Don Muhlbach, who once botched an extra-point snap with eight seconds left that would have forced overtime. It was one of many moments over the years that made fans think, This could only happen to the Lions.

A quarterback getting slugged in the jaw by his own teammate? That is so Jets, right? It is. And yes, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine this happening in New England or Green Bay. But bad things happen to every team. We tend to forget the bad stuff when it happens to good teams, or at least minimize it, and dwell on it when it happens to the bad ones.

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The Steelers’ star quarterback was suspended for conduct off the field, including alleged (but never proven) sexual assault. The Giants chose Ray Handley over Bill Belichick. The Patriots had a star tight end convicted of murder shortly after signing a large contract. The best teams do enough right that they overcome the failures and embarrassments.

I’d like to think that, if I were a Jets fan, I would be rooting for Geno Smith to get back on the field. And then I’d hope he got benched, the old-fashioned way: because the Jets found somebody better.