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Sports Today: NFL’s terrible rules screw Bengals again


The further criminalization of physical contact in the NFL caught up with the Bengals late Sunday night when news broke Vontaze Burfict is facing a five-game suspension

My knee-jerk reaction was five games seems like an awful lot, even for a repeat offender. 

I thought I should sleep on it, and this morning I still feel that way. 

But, hey, rules are rules, right? 

Well, not in the NFL. 

RELATED: NFL suspends Bengals’ linebacker

The mechanism for this punishment, according to ESPN, is a violation of limitations on hitting a “defenseless player.” 

This specious term gives the NFL wide leeway for doling out punishment in a wide variety of situations, often including hits that can still be reasonably described as part of the game by anyone who ever played it. 

Was Burfict’s hit on Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman gratuitous? Yes. 

Has Burfict earned his reputation as a dirty player? No doubt. 

RELATED: How will Bengals defense look without Burfict?

Does that mean he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt any time he does anything a shade outside the rules? That is arguable. 

It’s also beside the point. 

The root of the problem here is still yet another terrible rule dreamed up by the NFL.

The Bengals say the hit was legal, but who can tell anymore? 

RELATED: NFL rule changes and points of emphasis for 2017

Like the catch rules, limitations on hitting “defenseless players” create more problems than they solve. 

The regulations added to bang-bang passing plays have been sketchy from the start, making life harder for defensive backs and sending a confusing message to fans about what they should and shouldn’t cheer for. 

Don’t get me wrong: Lowering the “strike zone” to the chest area from the head was a good idea, and it has had positive results. It might not have been necessary if the league hadn’t spent about 20 years ignoring the rules already on the books, but that’s another story. 

›› Bengals start fast, fall to Redskins in third preseason game

The rules are just too nebulous, and the entire concept of a “defenseless player” makes little sense. It certainly should not have been expanded beyond very limited circumstances (kickers, punters, arguably quarterbacks). 

If you are wearing pads and running around on a football field, you might get whacked. The onus is on every player to defend himself or accept the consequences -- even if that means making a business decision about whether or not to try to catch a pass. 

That’s a lesson many learn in grade school, but the NFL can never leave well enough alone anymore… 

Last week I wrote Hue Jackson gets the anthem protest issue better than 99 percent of people who have written or said anything about it. 

Jim Brown is in that one percent, too

Consultation with Brown reportedly influenced the decision of multiple Cleveland players to stand and lock arms instead of kneel during the national anthem. 

That came after the Hall of Famer told ThePostGame.com, “I want to be in (Collin Kaepernick’s) corner,” but reiterated his problem with anthem protests: 

:I’m going to give you the real deal: I'm an American," Brown said. "I don't desecrate my flag and my national anthem. I'm not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem. I'm going to work within those situations. But this is my country, and I'll work out the problems, but I'll do it in an intelligent manner.” 

Brown made similar statements last year after someone eventually noticed Kaepernick wasn’t standing for the anthem during 49ers preseason games. 

Jackson caused a stir last week when he said he hoped his players would not take part in anthem protests, citing the clear fact that most of the reaction to players’ kneeling during the anthem has focused on the act rather than their message. 

RELATED: Colin Kaepernick probably should have just called a press conference

A dozen or so players knelt during the Browns’ second preseason game anyway — and most if not all of the focus afterward was on their action rather than the point they were trying to get across. 

Maybe the older guys know what they’re talking about here… 

In other news from the weekend, the Wayne High School-to-Ohio State pipeline continues thanks to L’Christian “Blue” Smith. 

The four-star receiver verbally committed to be a Buckeye on Sunday, meaning at least one Warrior is scheduled to be on the roster for the Ohio State roster through at least 2020. That would make 20 consecutive seasons even if Smith leaves early for the NFL — a streak that started before the Buckeyes got their first player from Cleveland Glenville. 

RELATED: More than 50 area players have signed with Ohio State since 1987

Smith told Mike Hartsock he probably will graduate early and enroll at Ohio State in January, meaning his great basketball career for the Warriors is over. 

Things did not go so well on the field for Smith and the Warriors, who were pummeled by Pennsylvania powerhouse Pine-Richland… 

Finally, we have the Cincinnati Reds. 

They lost two of three to the Pirates over the weekend, but for once the rotation was not to blame. 

Prospects Robert Stephenson, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle all pitched well enough to at least keep the Reds in the game, a small victory compared to the rest of the season. 

Stephenson struck out 11 and got the win Friday night while the bats let down Castillo and Mahle. 

In his major-league debut, Mahle showed off the potential that has let him climb the ladder quickly this season, but he also looked like a rookie. He ran into a little bad luck and lost his control midway through, but he also avoided being blown out of the water when things took a downturn. 

Truth be told, if the various kids the Reds have run across the Great American Ball Park mound this season had posted more starts like Mahle’s instead of the numerous blowups and flameouts, the team would not be in line for another top 10 pick. 

But if guys like Stephenson and Mahle can finish strong, maybe it will all be worth it in the long run. 


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