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Andre Johnson suspension wouldn’t have kept him off the field on Thursday

Andre Johnson

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (80) is escorted from the field after exchanging blows with Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010, in Houston. Finnegan was also ejected. The Texans won 20-0. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Plenty of fans -- and at least one reporter, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- have suggested that the NFL didn’t suspend Texans receiver Andre Johnson for punching a helmetless Cortland Finnegan in the head on Sunday because Johnson’s team next face the Eagles on Thursday Night Football, which will be broadcast by the network owned by the NFL.

Apart from whether a suspension ever is implemented by the NFL for fighting (more on that later), there’s simply no way that Johnson’s appeal rights could have been resolved in the three days between Monday and Thursday, if the league had advised him on Monday that the penalty would be a suspension.

Suspensions can’t be enforced until an appeal has been heard and resolved. Given the rights set forth in the labor agreement, Johnson’s appeal wouldn’t have been concluded in time for the league to hold him out of Thursday night’s game.

Apart from that, the league typically finalizes all suspensions by Tuesday of a given week, and that practice contemplates a game played on a Sunday. Teams need to know by the first serious practice of the week -- which comes on Wednesday -- whether the player will be playing. Given the short week with which the Texans are dealing, it simply wouldn’t have worked out that way.

Meanwhile, we all need to keep in mind that, for now, the NFL has opted to be more like hockey and less like basketball when it comes to player fights.

“I don’t believe a player has ever been suspended for fighting,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said via e-mail. “I can find no evidence in our records of such a suspension. Both players (plus Richard Seymour a few weeks ago) were ejected from the game for fighting and then fined. Fighting is subject to ejection and fines and that is why we do not have a history of fighting. We have very few on-field fights. Andre Rison and Deion Sanders were not suspended when they engaged in the same kind of fighting in a game several years ago.”

Of course, this begs the question of whether the NFL should use suspensions, especially when a player punches another player in the bare head -- or if/when a player pulls off another player’s helmet and strikes him in the bare head with it. We think the league shouldn’t rule out suspensions for such blatant acts of intentional violence, especially if suspensions remain on the table for in-game violence that lacks intention to injure and/or maim.

As to the issue of maiming, a good point came up during a visit last hour with Gary Williams and Steve Phillips of Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio. If Johnson’s punches to Finnegan’s head had created a Kermit Washington-Rudy Tomjanovich outcome, the severity of the injury would have resulted in a suspension.

Indeed, we’ve already seen something like that in the NFL, when Albert Haynesworth (then of the Titans) tried to shred the forehead of Cowboys center Andre Gurode. Though it wasn’t really a “fight” because it didn’t involve fists or Gurode fighting back, the NFL suspended Haynesworth for five games.

Still, if Haynesworth’s Titans had been slated to play the following Thursday and if Haynesworth had opted to exercise his appeal rights, he would have played -- regardless of whether the game were televised by NFLN, NBC, ESPN, FOX, CBS, or the Cartoon Network.