Haynesworth, whose record appears spotted with violent temper outbursts, set a record on Monday with his five-game suspension for letting loose on Cowboy center Andre Gurode—one kick that knocked off his helmet and one that raked his face and head. Gurode was left in need of a plastic surgeon’s attention and 30 stitches.For Roger Goodell, newly minted as NFL Commissioner, this clearly became an opportunity to place his stamp on how his league would run.
I had the opportunity to be part of the first chance for a commissioner to show how tough the new sheriff was back in 1993 in the National Hockey League. Goodell’s response on Monday was the right one, I believe. It mirrored much of what the NHL needed to do after Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals violently shoved the unaware Pierre Turgeon into the boards as he celebrated an apparent playoff series-clinching goal for the Islanders.Like Goodell this week, NHL commish Gary Bettman was just a few weeks into his tenure and the sports world waited for his response to this act which brought all kinds of attention, none of it positive, to the League. I was the VP Public Relations and gave my advice to Gary and his deputies on what I thought the result could be, but never mentioned any length of suspension. Hunter, like Haynesworth, committed his act out in the open for all to see. Unlike Haynesworth, he claimed it was part of the play. We didn’t need anyone to tell us that Gary and the league as a whole were on the spot.
We had a slight advantage of time, with Hunter’s team already eliminated from the playoffs. My advice? No one is likely to be happy with the decision, some would think the inevitable suspension too harsh, more would think it too lenient. If that were the case, we had probably done the right thing.
The decision was 21 games, at the time the longest suspension in NHL history for an on-ice act. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) And while there were many who disagreed with the decision (Give Hunter life; have him lose a season) it was a big change for the League and gave a strong message to the players.
Even in the unlikely event that Roger Goodell recalled the Hunter suspension, he’s smart enough to know that the sports world was watching. Did Albert Haynesworth get too many games? Too few? Impossible to say. What was definitely right was that a firm and precedent-setting decision was made. Gentlemen, you’ve been warned.
And no discussion of grown men acting badly today can ignore Chris Henry and Odell Thurman of the Bengals. Thurman, an outstanding rookie linebacker for the Bengals last season, has been suspended for this season, first for four games for violating the league substance abuse policy then for being charged last week for DUI, hitting a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit. WR Henry, also a regular visitor to jails and courthouses around America, was a passenger in the car and couldn’t have been driving because he was too busy puking out the window when Thurman was pulled over. All of this defies any comment beyond a statement of the facts.
But it all makes one wonder about the life and style of the NFL player. Should we be surprised at Haynesworth’s actions? No, although the brutality of it was a surprise. Haynesworth had at least three other documented temper outbursts as a college player at Tennessee and during his years with the Titans. We don’t know if any help was offered to deal with the outbursts but the only previous discipline reported was for half a game in college.
The NFL expects its players to act aggressively not passively; the NFL fan expects nothing less. Last week No. 1 draft pick Mario Williams of the Texans was quoted as saying: “That is the No. 1 thing that my coaches tell me about—I have to be more violent and not patty-cake with anybody. Just go hit them in the mouth and make a move after that.” Williams apparently learned his coaches’ lesson as he got his first sack on Sunday and knocked away a 2-point conversion pass that saved the Texans’ first victory.
All hail the violent man; all scorn the violent man.