Bostic fine raises larger questions

Bears linebacker Jon Bostic was fined $21,000 for his big hit last week in the Chargers game, a fine that is questionable at best and one that could lead to even more injuries on the field.

A gruesome injury occurred on the field during last week's preseason game between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins. After catching a pass on a five-yard out pattern, Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller was hit low by Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. The hit shredded Davis' knee, tearing his MCL, ACL, PCL, and dislocated his kneecap.

When asked about diving at Keller's knee, a hit that ended the tight end's season and possibly his career, Swearinger responded:

"I was making a hit playing football. In this league, you've got to go low. If you go high, you're going to get a fine," Swearinger told The Palm Beach Post. "I'm sorry that happened. I would think you'd rather have more concussions than leg injuries. Leg injury, you can't come back from that. A concussion, you'll be back in a couple of weeks."

It's a shame about Davis, although the $4.25 million contract he signed this offseason should help him sleep at night. But it's hard to argue with Swearinger. He wasn't penalized or fined for a hit that may force Keller into retirement. Yet today, the league fined Chicago Bears first-year linebacker Jon Bostic for his hit on Chargers receiver Mike Willie in last week's preseason contest.

The play was a receiver screen in which Bostic exploded into the receiver's chest the moment he caught the ball. The hit was nowhere near Willie's head, yet Bostic slightly lowered his head as he tried to cross the receiver's body, so he was fined $21,000.

Lance Briggs was one of the first to criticize the fine, posting on his Twitter account:

"Shaking my head moment. NFL fines Jon Bostic 21k for his clean hit against the Chargers. Bostic's hit illegal. Hit on Dustin Keller. Legal."

When asked today what part of the body the league expects linebackers to hit, Briggs replied:

"The navel and below. There's not a lot of area to hit when you're playing at 100 miles an hour and you're told to react right now. One thing that you do know is that you can't hit in the head, neck, really in the chest area. So what does that leave left?

"The league thought that it was an illegal hit; I disagree. I think that if you ask around the league, probably 100 percent of the league's going to say it was a legal hit, but it's not my call."

Count coach Marc Trestman as one of the many who feel Bostic's hit was legal.

"I thought it was a clean hit. His head was up and he hit with the shoulder," Trestman said after practice. "His head was up and he hit with his shoulder and he ran through the player the way we're trying to teach these guys to play every day, to be safe for themselves and for the guys that they are hitting. To do it the right way."

And this is where the confusion comes in. How is it possible that both players and coaches don't understand the rule? How can a rule be so nebulous that defenders have resorted to diving at kneecaps to avoid fines? In what way does that improve player safety?

Considering the back-to-back timin of the Keller and Bostic hits, and the fact the harmless one was fined and vicious one was not, how can we not expect more shattered kneecaps? Players don't want their money taken away from them. No one does.

And on any questionable hit, referees are told to throw flags first, ask questions later– which is easily the most unrealistic task of any referee in any major sport – so coaches don't want these hits to happen either. As such, it may not be far off when defensive back coaches start teaching their players to go low to avoid fines and penalties.

When that happens, just wait until you see what making up the rules as you go does to the quality of NFL play.

But honestly, what is the league supposed to do? They are dealing with litigation from more than 4,000 former players. These days, it's almost a rite of passage for NFL players to sue the league once they retire. And no one is suing them because of a bad knee.

Former NFL players have a beef, to an extent, but they are the ones to blame for the way the league now handles head-related hits and injuries. I'm not saying it's wrong. Player safety should be the main priority in any game, and the league was at fault for many years, but it is what it is. And did you ever notice those same players with litigation pending against the NFL are the first ones to speak up and criticize the league when they mandate new roles aimed at making the game safer.

And so the league has been backed into a corner. At this point, they have to focus on concussions, so when Briggs sues the league after he retires, the NFL can look back and show a judge they did everything in their power to curb head injuries.

The NFL doesn't have the time to worry about knees. The aftermath is what you've seen the past week: a rookie getting fined the equivalent of a full game check for barely lowering his head, while another player goes fine-free for a low hit that ends another player's season.

Welcome to the NFL we've created.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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