Thursday night football this past week featured the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns in a rivalry game, but what happened at the end might have changed National Football League history.
Mason Rudolph, the Steelers’ second-string quarterback, was sacked late by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. Once both players were on the ground, Garrett and Rudolph exchanged some light punches before things took an ugly turn.
Garrett ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and hit him over the head with it.
He attacked Rudolph, who was coming off of a head injury from a few weeks prior, on national television.
Although this incident is extreme, the NFL has seen many personal fouls and fights every season for years. Players like the Raiders’ Vontaze Burfict build reputations. Burfict has been suspended multiple times for illegal hits and after-the-whistle calls.
But why is this not seen in college?
Sure, targeting happens in college and so do “fights.” But for the most part, college games appear cleaner, more well-mannered and sportsmanlike.
Many have theories as to why this happens so much more on the professional level, but I offer two.
My first theory is that college players are unproven. Each and every Division I football player is, at most, given a scholarship. They are all basically equals and one doesn’t receive more benefits than another, as long as the institution follows NCAA guidelines.
Once players enter the professional arena, though, that changes. Some players are making millions of dollars every year and some are making thousands. This can put a chip on a player’s shoulder and make him resent opposing players based on fame and money, something much different than in college.
Also, with only 32 NFL teams and over 100 Division I college programs, media coverage can be more focused on every NFL game rather than college games. With more media attention on players, their mistakes are highlighted on national television for many to see.
My second theory is college players still have to earn their way up. An NFL prospect couldn’t risk not being drafted or being signed to a contract by starting fights, getting suspended or building a bad reputation.
But that changes.
Once a player is in the league and signed to a contract, he has proven himself and made it to the top. He is able to take risks and act out with very little consequences, which normally include a small fine or, in extreme cases, a short suspension.
What Garrett did was classless and represents the image of football and sports poorly in general. His full suspension has not been announced yet, but it is speculated that it could set a record for a suspension due to on-field conduct.
Although it is unfortunate for the NFL, college football’s cleaner image helps to keep fans, sell tickets and keep the fanbase happy.
Although college play does include incidents involving targeting and personal fouls, they seem to be on a much smaller scale and allow the game to move on. The NFL should take notes, and its players should try to maintain the same drive and attitude they had in college.