Tim Benz: Stop pretending we can change football violence
Ben Roethlisberger said it with a dismissive pride.
When ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters asked him to react to the “viciousness and brutality” of the Steelers-Bengals game he has just been a part of, Roethlisberger simply stated: “It's AFC North football.”
“That's it?” replied Salters.
“Yup,” quipped the quarterback.
Initially it felt shallow. It felt hollow.
After all, during Pittsburgh's 23-20 bloodbath Monday Night Football win over the Bengals two players had been taken off on stretchers, one from each team. Half a dozen other players were knocked out along the way with significant injuries. Head shots were flying around Paul Brown stadium throughout the night.
C'mon, Ben! How about something a little deeper. A little more thoughtful than, well, it's just “AFC North football.”
But I gave up on that critical reaction towards Roethlisberger in about ten seconds.
Because I'm done.
I'm done throwing stones from my glass house when it comes to the NFL and how the sport of football should be viewed, officiated, and disciplined.
If Roethlisberger is wrong for thinking that way, then I guess I'm wrong for failing to take pity on Vontaze Burfict for getting knocked out by an illegal block by JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Don't misunderstand. I don't want to see him hurt. There's a huge difference between celebrating injury--which I don't do--and refusing to express faux sympathy.
I mean, am I supposed to feel sorry for him? Should I really be? Since before the game on Monday in an ESPN interview he reiterated a stupid claim that Antonio Brown was faking his concussion when Burfict hit him in the head during the 2015 playoffs?
Should I fail to point out the irony that, while the world is excoriating JuJu Smith-Schuster for taunting Burfict after hitting him, it was Burfict who celebrated injuring Le'Veon Bell along the sideline at Heinz Field in 2015?
Brown was classless for shouting “karma” in the locker room after the game Monday. The players in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati refuse to elevate themselves above the fray during the game. Why should we expect that they would afterwards?
But if you are a Bengal fan who takes offense at that, do a Twitter search. Type in “Shazier” & “Bernard” & “karma.” See how many Tweets you can find like this , which says that Ryan Shazier was--I'm not kidding-- basically owed a spinal cord injury by the football gods because he went helmet to helmet on Gio Bernard in that same 2015 playoff game.
That being said, if they are the ones who are putting each others health in danger playing the game, the fans and media shouldn't be held to a higher standard just watching it.
Keep in mind, we're about to hear a lot of stuff about “union brotherhood” in a few years when the collective bargaining agreement comes up.
A lot of the narrative after this contest from national media suggested that this game is the latest, greatest message that the league needs to control its players more on the field.
I'd contend this is the latest, greatest message that it can't be done.
The more rules are put in place, the more they are broken. The headshot rules haven't become deterrents. They've just become ways to increase fine totals, suspensions, referee-fan confusion, hyperbole, and vitriol.
For example, the players were so aghast at what they saw with Shazier and Burfict getting carted off, that George Iloka blasted Brown in the dome on the game-tying touchdown a few minutes later.
The level of hand wringing and gnashing of teeth from the ESPN broadcast booth was significantly less after that play than the Smith-Schuster hit.
Why? Because Brown wasn't injured? Because he got up?
Wait? Are we still talking about pro football or the NHL?
Or maybe the broadcasters just had a moment of clarity. Perhaps they realized we can scream outrage, feign disgust, and call for change.
But the “viciousness and brutality” you saw on Monday night can never be fully eliminated. When it does happen, the fans and the players on one side will never think their guy was wrong.
The fans and the players on the other side will always think the other guy was at fault.
I don't care how anyone reacts to this stuff anymore. It's gotten too absurd. Think what you want. Say what you want. Tweet what you want.
That's not right. But I'm done pretending I can do anything about it.
So, see you at Heinz Field for more “AFC North Football” when the Steelers play the Ravens.
Let's see how this one goes.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.