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'It's stupid': Steelers furious as NFL overturns suspension for Bengals' George Iloka

Joe Rutter
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 8:24 p.m.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass, as the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka defend during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass, as the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka defend during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Bengals' George Iloka watches as Steelers receiver Antonio Brown holds onto the ball after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Brown scored the game-tying touchdown on the play.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Bengals' George Iloka watches as Steelers receiver Antonio Brown holds onto the ball after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Brown scored the game-tying touchdown on the play.
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lays out the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lays out the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell pumps up fans before a game against the Bengals Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell pumps up fans before a game against the Bengals Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, at Heinz Field.

George Iloka had his suspension reduced, JuJu Smith-Schuster didn't and the Steelers weren't happy with either development Wednesday.

In an emotionally charged post-practice locker room, Ramon Foster took a verbal shot at the NFL's vice president of football operations, and Mike Mitchell and Maurkice Pouncey railed against the league's disciplinary standards.

Jon Runyan, the NFL vice president who levied the suspensions Monday, was called a “pawn” by Foster, the Steelers union representative. Pouncey called the disciplinary process “stupid,” and Mitchell said the NFL is trying to turn the sport into “flag football.”

The reactions came a few hours after Iloka, the Bengals safety who delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown during a fourth-quarter touchdown catch, had his one-game suspension reduced to a $36,464.50 fine. On Tuesday night, Smith-Schuster's appeal of his one-game suspension for his illegal hit and taunt of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was upheld.

Smith-Schuster's appeal was heard by James Thrash. Iloka's was heard by Derrick Brooks. Both are former NFL players.

Smith-Schuster, who is not permitted inside the Steelers facility until he serves his suspension, will miss a game check worth $25,744. By having his suspension rescinded, Iloka will save $231,080 in salary.

In handing out the suspension to Iloka, Runyan wrote Iloka violated a rule prohibiting hits against a “defenseless player's head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder.” The $36,464.50 fine, which is a second offense for Iloka, is in line with infractions for horse-collar tackles, leg whips and roughing the passer. Second offenses for launching and helmet-to-helmet hits result in $48,620 fines.

Foster took issue with Runyan's role in the fine process. In 2006, when Runyan was an offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, he was voted the NFL's “second-dirtiest player” in a Sports Illustrated poll.

“Is he just trying to get back in the good graces of God because of that?” Foster said.

Foster also disputed that Runyan is an independent arbiter and said commissioner Roger Goodell remains the league's disciplinary force.

“You don't think Goodell doesn't know about what is going on?” Foster said. “That's how I see it. You can put a pawn in place, because you can fire the pawn, you can tell the pawn to do without it being a direct reflection of you.”

Pouncey argued Smith-Schuster's hit, albeit illegal, didn't warrant the same one-game suspension as New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who piled on a prone Buffalo Bills player with an elbow to the head Sunday.

“I think it's stupid, the stupidest thing in the world,” he said. “The kid is just playing hard football. For him to have the same suspension as Gronk is just embarrassing. It's ridiculous.”

Foster offered an opinion on why Gronkowski didn't receive a stiffer penalty.

“Why not multiple games?” he said. “Because the Steelers play the Patriots the next week.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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