Steelers safety Mike Mitchell watched how the NFL has responded to three different plays in this past week of football, and he’s not happy about the different punishments that the league has handed down in response or the arcane reasoning behind those punishments.
The three plays in question resulted in the same initial suspension of one game each: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski pulled an impromptu wrestling move on an already-down Tre’Davious White (who had to be checked for a concussion); Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster laid out Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict (who left the game in a cart) on a block; and Bengals safety George Iloka made helmet-to-helmet contact with Steelers receiver Antonio Brown as he caught a touchdown in the end zone. All three players appealed their punishments, and only Iloka had his dropped. Mitchell was not mad at his divisional rival, but at the NFL for not removing Smith-Schuster’s suspension:
The safety was perplexed that Smith-Schuster and Iloka, whose hits came during play, were disciplined in the same way as Gronkowski, whose actions came after the whistle. (When handing down the punishment, NFL VP of football operations Jon Runyan mentioned that Smith-Schuster “celebrated” over a supine Burfict after making the hit.)
At his locker today, Mitchell called for the NFL to change to flag football if the league was going to punish every hit, and complained that there’s nothing he can do about quarterbacks who throw bad passes and put their receivers in danger. He also called former QB and current ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck an asshole, although that’s neither here nor there.
A partial transcript:
I’m gonna mess around and get hurt trying to protect an offensive player because he’s running an over route. Dammit, your quarterback shouldn’t have threw that ball messed up. That happened two years ago. I’m not joking at all. Andy Dalton threw a ball to Tyler Eifert two years ago. Tyler Eifert had to dive for it. I was aiming for his gut, but if he don’t dive, he don’t get hit in the head. That’s 50 grand out of my pocket though, because Andy throws a bad ball. Make that make sense. And at first you’re taking our money, but now I got assholes like Matt Hasselbeck calling me a dirty player and trying my character, and we never met before.
As Mitchell said in the clip and on Twitter, he’s more frustrated with the collective bargaining agreement that gave the league the latitude and power that allow it to issue such wildly varying punishments for its players. That complaint’s valid, even if it’s coming from a guy who two months ago twisted running back Charcandrick West’s ankle after the whistle and rolled up on Alex Smith’s legs. The NFL has a short season relative to other sports, which means that every game matters. Which in turn means that punishments take on more gravity. Therefore, a one-game suspension, in the context of the football season, means a lot. Demanding that similar infractions incur similar responses doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Then again, this is the NFL, so everyone can be left unhappy.
Correction (6:32 p.m. ET): The last paragraph of this blog said that Mitchell was fined for rolling up on Alex Smith’s legs. He appealed the fine and won.