The NFL loves storylines. ESPN and FOX love them even more. They garner viewers, drum up interest in the upcoming games, and give their analysts something to sound intelligent about. As a football fan, that all sounds great to me. When the lights went out at Candlestick Park on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago, listening to Chris Berman talk about absolutely nothing was among the most excruciating football experiences of my life. If that never has to happen again, the world will be a better place for it. Storylines give the analysts a nice, well constructed outlet to mask their improv deficiencies.
But all too often, the storylines are made up, inferred, or stretched to the point where they’re indistinguishable from the original incident. Here’s a good example:
After Tom Brady put up 517 yards and 4 TDs on Miami earlier this year, Chad Ochocinco tweeted, “Just waking up after a late arrival, I’ve never seen a machine operate like that n person, to see video game numbers put up n person was WOW,” which for some reason drew the ire of Teddy Bruschi. Of course, everyone on ESPN followed suit and it became a major storyline, despite the idiocy of Bruschi’s outrage.
Aside from the stories being clearly manufactured on occasion, there is also a big problem with storyline bias and selectivity. This is where the Lions come in. Much was made of Ndamukong Suh’s stomp on Thanksgiving. All of a sudden, everyone in sports media grew morals, saying Suh is a dirty player, deserves to be suspended (or even thrown out of football), and needs to learn to control himself.
Sure, maybe you agree with them. But I’m going to delve into this one to share my opinion. First a screenshot:
In this picture, you’ll notice Suh’s foot has just landed on Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm, while Suh’s head is whipping to the side. If there’s anything that professional wrestling has taught us in this world, it is that you spot your landing when you stomp, as you’ll see in this photo.
Think about it. Go out and try it. Stomp on something. Were you looking at it? To me this looks more like Suh was kicking and flailing wildly to get away from 3 guys pushing, holding, and grabbing him. Sure it looked like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum, but it didn’t look like a deliberate stomp to the guy’s arm to me. While trying to find a video to illustrate my point, I came across this completely unrelated and completely awesome video.
Another thing to note is Dietrich-Smith’s reaction. He doesn’t writhe in pain. He doesn’t grab at his arm. In fact, he acts as if he didn’t feel the stomp. Take a look at the video to see for yourself:
Anyway, if you don’t agree with me and think Suh’s suspension was warranted, let me shed some light on some other incidents that got almost no press whatsoever, drew no moral outrage, and didn’t play into one of ESPN’s storylines.
The first occurred on October 23rd, 2011. That is just over a month before the Suh stomp incident. Here’s the video:
In this video, you clearly see Brian Robison of the Minnesota hit T.J. Lang of the Packers with a very rough looking kick to the pieces. The shot lifted Lang off of the ground. How he didn’t leave the field on a cart is beyond me. But did this become a lasting storyline defining the Vikings as a team? Did Robison become ESPN’s public enemy #1? No. Instead, it was laughed about on ESPN’s “C’mon Man!” segment.
You may say, well that’s just a media outlet doing their best to satisfy viewers. But the NFL isn’t innocent in this. Brian Robison was not thrown out of the game. He was not suspended. He was fined $20,000…That’s it. To me, Suh’s infraction isn’t as bad as this one, yet Suh received a 2-game suspension without pay (costing him approximately $164,000), causing him to miss the saints game, contributing to a Lions loss.
Another incident that I noticed (that almost no one commented on), was this past week in San Diego. With 55 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, Matt Stafford completed a pass to Tony Scheffler. As Scheffler went to the ground to catch the ball, Takeo Spikes came up alongside him and gave Scheffler a swift knee/kick to the ribs/arm. I can’t find the video to share, so I made a GIF from some screenshots.
There was no penalty, no suspension, no fine, and no mention of this at any point by the league, the media, or anyone but a few vigilant Lions fans on twitter. In my mind, this one is also in the same league as Suh’s stomp. No injury, questionable intent, but also no media attention and no backlash. When the media harps on the “undisciplined Lions” storyline so much, you get confirmation bias and all of a sudden you notice things that wouldn’t be a big deal otherwise. Three offensive pass interference calls in one game on Nate Burleson? Undisciplined Lions. Can’t be that the refs are making one bad call after another. The NFL needs to become more consistent in their punishment if they continue to ramp up their strict rule policies. Uneven enforcement leaves the league wide open to rampant corruption and alienation of fans.