Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Price of Words

The week before Thanksgiving was one for the books in the NFL. Just two weeks after Jets Coach Rex Ryan opened his mouth, a move which cost him $100,000, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch didn't open his and got charged the same hundred grand. Admittedly both have multi-year deals, with Ryan making about $3.3 million this year, and Lynch averaging about $7.5 million. In that light, the impact is a bit more muted than if you or I were hit with similar fines. According to one online calculator (yes, there are such things) for a person making about $50K a year, Rex's fine was equivalent to about $1500, Marshawn's less than half of that.

Rex got his for cursing at someone as he was walking to midfield for the traditional post game "handshake-and-make-nice" with the opposing coach and team. (And this was after they beat Pittsburgh. Lord only knows what would have come out of his mouth if they had lost.) Officially the fine was leveled for "profane language," a penalty that usually carries a price tag of $11,025. But Ryan was a repeat offender, having previously been hit with a $50,000 fine in 2010 and a $75,000 penalty in 2011. Asked what his wife thought of his once again vehemently defending the Jets' honor, he rolled his eyes: "She wasn't real happy."  

On the other side of the coin, Lynch was hit for not talking to anyone at all. The league has a media policy that requires players to talk to the press after a game. Not wanting to have a chat, Lynch ducked out of the locker room following the team's loss to Kansas City. He had done that before, getting hit with a $50,000 fine for avoiding the media before the last Super Bowl. In the aftermath of that incident, the NFL held the fine in abeyance pending his future cooperation. But his recidivism didn't sit well with the folks in the league office, and so they leveled a new $50,000 fine, piling on the old for good measure. Hence the price of silence was $100,000.  

(In response, Lynch was available to talk to all comers who clustered around his locker the following week. To the 19 questions asked by reporters he responded 14 times with "Yeah," twice with "Maybe," once with "I don't know," and once with "No Juice," the last in response to what song he had listened to on the way to the field before the game.)  

The fines, while higher than many, are all well within the league's discretion, and indeed are part of a schedule of offenses.  While there is leeway as to whether or not a fine is actually assessed, the published list includes a charge for $5,512 for throwing a football intro the stands and $2,756 for unnecessarily entering a fight area where there is no involvement. A face mask infraction will cost you $8,268, while being guilty of roughing the passer will hit your wallet for $16,537. In most cases fines are doubled or even tripled for subsequent offences.

Lest you think that physical altercations are all that get penalized, verbal abuse or taunting can also get you smacked. And protecting what is really valuable, transgressions against the image and licensing agreements that the league has merit the most opened-ended penalties of all. Recently a number of players, including marquee quarterback Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco, were slapped with $10,000 fines for wearing Beats headphones after the league signed an exclusive deal with Bose. Put another way, it costs more to wear your own earbuds than to chop block an opponent. I guess it's a question which is more dangerous in the bigger picture of things.

If there's any good news, it's that the funds collected for these offenses goes to a variety of charities aimed at players, as well as various disaster relief and health-related organizations backed by the NFL. So thank you Roman Harper for hitting Devin Hester. Much obliged J.C. Tretter for that leg whip against Trent Cole. And bless you Jerry Hughes for cursing an official during the Buffalo-Miami game. You guys helped push the season total so far to over $22 million. This week let's see if someone steps it up and tries a horse collar tackle. After all, $25 million is not too much of a stretch.


Marc Wollin of Bedford rarely gets fined for anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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