Commentary

Brawlers' effort deserves cheers

Fights can't be tolerated, but at least Johnson and Finnegan showed they care

Originally Published: November 30, 2010
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

I know what I'm supposed to write. I'm supposed to write that what Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan did in Week 12 was despicable and that there is no place for it in the game of football.

That they lost their composure, acted unprofessionally and were totally undisciplined when they ripped each other's helmets off and started throwing punches. That the NFL was right to fine each $25,000 for his actions.

All of that is true, of course, and in fact the NFL arguably should have sent a stronger message with at least heftier fines to make it very clear to other players across the league that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Because it can't be. Not only do ugly incidents like this look bad for the league but they also set a very poor example to the lower levels of football, a responsibility the league takes very seriously, as evidenced by its stance on hits to the head of defenseless players.

That said, I loved the altercation, and not simply because of the entertainment value that is created by watching two men come to blows.

To me, it goes much deeper than that. In an era of professional sports that is sometimes marked by apathy, it is nice to know how much some players really care. Whether it is the lack of defense in regular-season NBA games or the lackluster performances put forth by the Dallas Cowboys in the last games of the Wade Phillips era, the effort put forth by pro athletes is called into question now more than ever.

That clearly wasn't the issue for Finnegan or Johnson. It's important to note that it was not the act of fighting that showed they were trying hard. It was everything that led up to that point.

Here were two Pro Bowl players, both in the middle of long-term, big-money contracts, competing fiercely with one another play after play. It was a treat to see how aggressively they went after each other when Johnson tried to block Finnegan on running plays. When else do you see superstar wide receivers blocking that vigorously and top-level cornerbacks returning in kind?

It's called personal pride. For those two, their on-field competition was not about the money or recognition. It was simply about being better than the man across the line of scrimmage and doing whatever it took to win that individual matchup.

Isn't that what we want and should expect of all of our professional athletes?

From the inbox

Q: How come we don't see more fights in games? We see them all the time in preseason practice footage but hardly ever in games.

Bill in San Diego

A: It really all comes down to consequences and repercussions. If you do that type of stuff in a game, you cost your team a penalty, can get ejected, and are sure to get fined and maybe even suspended. Plus, most fights in practice stem from one player thinking that the other player is going too hard or being too aggressive. That obviously is not an issue for the most part in games, where everyone goes hard. Or at least everyone should.

Q: How many of the players actually pay attention to the coach in the locker room after a game?

Jeff in Irvine, Calif.

A: Depends on the coach, the player and how the team is playing. All players listen after a win for the most part, but there are definitely some who will tune the coach out after a loss, especially if the team is really struggling or the player doesn't respect the coach and what he has to say.

Q: Why are NFL fines set monetary values, like in the case of Richard Seymour ($25,000)? Surely this is a little unfair on players who aren't making big bucks. Could the fines be tied to players' weekly game checks? Like half a week's wages for a helmet-to-helmet hit, a full week for a punch, etc.? I think this would be fairer and also really get the attention of repeat offenders.

James in Dublin

A: The league has a set fine schedule for most offenses, and it has nothing to do with the offending player's compensation. I agree, however, that those fines mean a heck of a lot more to a guy making the second-year minimum than they do to guys such as Seymour and Andre Johnson. I'm in favor of having it be a percentage of a player's weekly game check. That seems fair.

Q: How did Roger Goodell get his position as commissioner? Is there a procedure to oust him to get a new commissioner? He is ruining the game, in my opinion. It seems like the NFL is telling players like James Harrison to instead of sacking the quarterback to just punch him in the face and you will get fined less. Those players involved in the fisticuffs the last two weeks and the cheaters in Denver were all fined less then defensive players trying to make a football play.

Kurt in St. Petersburg, Pa.

A: Goodell was voted as the new commissioner by the owners and isn't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, he is very well liked and has been roundly praised by pretty much everyone associated with the NFL. That said, your point about the various fine levels is good. It does seem a bit incongruous that the league's efforts to stem hits to the head of defenseless players in the context of the game appear to trump such egregious offenses as filming another team's practice and punching another player in the head.

Q: What would you consider to be the second-most desirable professional league to be in from a player perspective (CFL, AFL or UFL)?

Allan in Lethbridge, Alberta

A: It really depends on your goal. If the goal is to play in the NFL, the UFL is probably the best bet because it is essentially the same game and the league is primarily made up of former NFL players and coaches. If the goal is to make a good living in the United States playing football, the AFL was a pretty good option before it had financial issues. The CFL is a great brand of football, and a lot of guys I know really enjoy playing up there.

Q: When teams wear retro uniforms (helmet included), how long do the players get to break in their new helmets? I can't believe that they would simply repaint their old helmets -- it doesn't seem there would be enough time to do that. Watching the Thanksgiving game with Dallas got me thinking about this subject.

Tom in Norwalk, Ohio

A: Great question. There are two different helmets, and the team will practice in the retro one a couple of times in training camp and certainly the entire week leading up to the game so the guys feel comfortable with them. Even so, some guys still don't like it and complain about it, but at this point, most of them are pretty used to it.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.