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Punch-drunk NFL running scared

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The Sports Xchange

ALAMEDA, Calif. — After NFL officials miss-spent an entire offseason fretting about deflated balls, now it appears they lost theirs.

It could be that, after being embarrassed on so many appeals against so many ill-advised punishments, the league is now gun-shy when an obvious infraction deserves – no, demands — harsh punishment.

The league apparently replaced attacks driven by ignorant arrogance with a cowardly retreat that may be more in its own self-interest than that of the players it pretends to protect.

That became obvious this week when league officials announced Monday that they did not intend to suspend Cincinnati Bengals veteran defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones for mugging Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. It happened during a game Cincinnati won easily, 33-13.

There still may be a fine, even a big one, but for a league that is at least feigning concern for safety and concussions, this was certainly more offensive than most of those plays that drew fines and suspensions when video replays were still inconclusive as to whether maybe the crown of the helmet was misused.

What Jones did to Cooper was a measured, blatant, obvious act that would be illegal anywhere except a UFC cage starring Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva

This is not to say that Cooper was entirely blameless. During the play, Cooper did get his hand into Jones’ face while trying to block him. But that was at least during the course of a fairly physical play.

“I was at the game and the play was right in front of me and it was obvious and brutal and he should have been ejected,” former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden said. “I think once the officials didn’t eject Jones, then it was more difficult for the league to issue a suspension. I don’t know for sure, that’s just what I think.”

Madden was so incensed by the play that he discussed it Tuesday in a conference call with the league’s sub-committee on safety.

Cooper himself did not make an issue out of the mugging, which is really irrelevant. He is a rookie trying to earn cred on the field and whining about being mugged doesn’t get him any points. To the contrary, it may make him a target for taunting in future games.

“I wasn’t really shocked,” Cooper said after the game. “I know guys can get physical out there. This is a physical group, so that’s to be expected.

“I don’t think he should be suspended. We were just playing physical. I should’ve been playing physical. Honestly, I didn’t even know I hit my head on the helmet.”

While some may insist Cooper’s own remarks should vindicate Jones, it is exactly the opposite. The reason football became more and more dangerous is that players were allowed — hell, encouraged — to show displays of machismo.

The league should protect the players from themselves.

However, perhaps the most significant morsel of information from this incident was a report that Cooper complained that he was punched in the throat and, this is the important part, he will appeal any fine or suspension.

And it is that “A” word, and the pain of losing so many appeals, that seems to have deflated the league’s desire to draw a line and punish those who cross it. Of course, that is assuming the league has figured out when and where to draw the line.

So, absent NFL action inspired by some new video from TMZ or angry cries from special interest groups, chalk up one more embarrassing moment for the NFL — Pacman-gate.

–Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


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