NFL fines don’t make much sense

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Trent Cole was fined all of $7,500 — or 0.19 percent of his 2011 salary — for ending Russell Okung’s season with an after-the-whistle, judo-style toss of the Seahawks’ offensive tackle.

Also on Wednesday, we all were reminded just how arbitrary and often times hypocritical the NFL can be when it comes to handing out discipline.

Cole’s takedown of Okung resulted in a torn pectoral muscle, which landed Okung on injured reserve. What Wednesday’s fine, which Cole revealed to the Philadelphia Inquirer, showed us is that, among other things, the following is worse than or at least as bad as ending an opponent’s season with a post-whistle takedown:

• Calling your wife to tell her you are OK following a head injury, something that cost Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu $10,000 because players aren’t allowed to use cell phones during games.

• Wearing the wrong colored shoes, which cost Chicago receiver Earl Bennett $10,000 for wearing orange shoes in two straight games.

• Falling on your back after catching a touchdown pass, which cost Seahawks receiver Golden Tate $7,500 following Seattle’s loss to Washington.

I’d say the league has me scratching my head over its disciplinary policies, but I’m afraid scratching my defenseless head too vigorously might result in a $20,000 fine.

Many of the fines the NFL hands out are the result of the league trying to keep its athletes safe, and in theory that’s a great idea. The problem, as we’ve seen over and over again, is how inconsistently the punishment is handed out.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was ejected from his team’s game on Thanksgiving for stomping on an opponent, which really is a pretty terrible thing to do. He also was suspended two games, because, again, it’s a pretty awful thing to stomp on an opponent. But what if that play had been missed by officials, or hadn’t been shown clearly on camera, or replayed hundreds of times on SportsCenter, or been committed by Suh, who already had a reputation as someone who sometimes goes too far?

That’s what happened with Cole and Okung.

While what Cole did didn’t look as bad as stomping on somebody, the end result was much, much worse. Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith didn’t even miss a play, let alone the remainder of the season, while Okung won’t play again this year. Cole had the good fortune of the officials missing his takedown, as well as NFL Network producers and on-air talent not noticing the incident, meaning not even a single replay was shown.

So, instead of a suspension or at least a harsh fine, Cole skates with a very light slap on the wrist. If player safety is so important to the league, as it likes to preach, then send a message to a player who, after the whistle, ended another player’s season.

Which brings us to an other curious aspect of the league discipline.

In a league where some players make a few hundred thousand dollars and others make tens of millions, why are fines handed out in dollar amounts rather than percentages of income? In back-to-back games this season, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor was fined $20,000 then $40,000 for hits on defenseless receivers. Putting aside for a moment the debate over whether or not those hits merited flags and fines, is it really fair for a player to lose more than two weeks pay for two bang-bang plays? Baltimore safety Ed Reed will make more than 14 times what Chancellor will this season, yet would have been fined exactly the same way had he been flagged for those hits.

And speaking of Chancellor, he last week unwittingly became a perfect symbol for the league’s disciplinary hypocrisy in the moments leading up to Thursday night’s game. As the NFL Network ran a video promoting the upcoming game, one of the plays spliced into the montage was Chancellor’s hit on Baltimore receiver Anquan Boldin that resulted in his first fine. The league that flagged and fined Chancellor in the name of player safety felt it was perfectly OK — on its own network, mind you — to use that play to promote its product.

The NFL gets a lot of things right. There is a reason it is the most popular and financially successful sports league in the country — and by a large margin — but discipline is not one of them. One thing players wanted to get out of the new collective bargaining agreement and didn’t was more oversight when it comes to player discipline. They didn’t like the idea of a league and its commissioner deciding on fines and also ruling on appeals with no outside checks and balances. This season, more than ever, we are seeing why.

Even though the league got what it wanted in this area when it came to the new CBA, the powers that be need to reform how they hand out discipline.

When two head coaches — Detroit’s Jim Schwartz and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh — nearly come to blows at the end of the game, becoming one of the biggest and most embarrassing stories of the season, and escape any discipline, it makes the league look bad; a player celebrating a touchdown or wearing the wrong shoes does not.

And when a team loses its cornerstone left tackle for four games on a play than never needed to happen, that is the time — not when a player calls his concerned wife from the sideline — for the NFL to send a message.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog

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