On Monday, the NFL announced that Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been suspended without pay for the remainder of the season due to “unnecessary roughness.”
This is the longest discipline for an on-field exploit in NFL history, as it includes all postseason games as well.
This suspension came directly after the Raiders versus Colts game on Sunday where Burfict was ejected in the second quarter for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit to the Colts tight end Jack Doyle.
Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich remarked that the league’s “actions feel very appropriate” and he was pleased with the suspension after the Raiders’ 31-24 win. It was clear Burfict felt no remorse as he blew kisses to the Indianapolis crowd while he walked off the field.
NFL Vice President Jon Runyan wrote in his letter to Burfict that his actions were “unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided.”
He further wrote: “Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly-appointed appeal officers that future violations would result in escalated accountability measures.
However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk…Your extensive history of rules violations is factored into this decision regarding accountability measures.”
Burfict violated rule 12, Section 2, Article 10 which states that “it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
According to Burfict’s agent Lamont Smith, he will appeal the suspension in a hearing next Tuesday claiming that it is an excessive punishment for a legal football play. His appeal would be heard by either Derrick Brooks or James Thrash who are both paid by the NFL and NFL Players Association to decide on-field player violation appeals.
The linebacker has a history of suspensions from violating unnecessary roughness rules and is infamous for playing dirty. Despite being an exceptional linebacker, Burfict, 29, has been suspended and fined 13 times in his seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
He signed with the Raiders in March of this year and is now facing the fourth consecutive suspension of his career.
In 2016, he was suspended for first three games of the season due to an illegal hit to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver.
In 2017, he was suspended for the first three games again (originally five before he appealed) for similar prohibited and forcible contact to the head and neck area of an opponent.
Burfict also had a four-game suspension in 2018 for the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs. Combined with these suspensions, Burfict has had a number of fines for illegal hits.
Less than a month into the 2019 season, the situation looks bleak for the Raiders team-captain. Some feel the season-long suspension isn’t punishment enough, while others feel it is overkill.
If unnecessary roughness rules violations don’t end Burfict’s football career, something else might- concussions. Burfict has been diagnosed with a concussion seven times throughout his career, and that number is likely a lot higher if one includes concussions that were not diagnosed.
In December of 2017, Burfict suffered his seventh documented concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburg Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The obvious question one might ask is why would a player with a history of head injuries continue to play so violently and aggressively?
Well, the post-concussion brain has a number of short and long term emotional and behavioral issues including mood swings, irritability, and aggression.
You don’t need to be a doctor to diagnose Burfict with post-concussion syndrome, and the aggressive cycle he’s engaged in could not only be causing his brain trauma but also possibly caused by it.
Without ample time to heal, a person suffering from a concussion or multiple concussions can having lasting symptoms for months and even years.
Besides behavioral symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and aggression, physical symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, head-aches, vision and hearing problems, nausea, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.
According to the CDC, 1.6 to 3.8 million sports related concussions happen annually in the U.S. In football, which has the highest rate of concussion for contact sports, 65 to 95 percent of deaths are caused by head trauma.
The most common causes of concussions in football are from helmet-to-body, helmet-to-helmet, and helmet to ground hits in that order.
Usually it occurs while a player is making a tackle. Although the number of football related brain injuries seems to be on the decline in recent years due to in-depth concussion research leading to increased safety measures and regulations, untreated and repeated brain injuries are still a major issue in the NFL.
Many football players suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease caused by recurring head injuries, which can lead to dementia and suicide.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put it best when he stated “…the brain is not an injury that you want to play with and play through.
I think more people need to understand that. We play football for such a short period of time in our lives. When you’re done, you want to be a father and a husband and be the best I can be. If I have these brain injuries, it’s not worth it.”