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Robinson avoids sure suspension for bell-ringer; fined $40K for repeat offense

Week 2: Eagles at Falcons

After delivering a headhunting hit to Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson was looking to send a message.

The NFL also sent a message that it is afraid to enforce harsh sanctions for hits that sometimes cause careers to end, diminish the quality of former players’ lives, and even shorten their life expectancy. The league talks tough — threatening suspension for flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits — then shrinks back when action is required and demanded. Robinson, whose salary and bonuses average $9.5 million a year, was fined $40,000, or less than a half of one percent. In terms of a 60-minute game, Robinson makes $40,000 in 4 minutes and 15 seconds — whether he’s on the field or not.

The NFL’s press release admits they low-balled the number:

Robinson is a repeat offender of player safety rules. He was fined $25,000 for a 2010 violation of player safety rules … The minimum amount in the 2011 Fine Schedule for a second violation of the rules on hits against defenseless players is $40,000.

Robinson’s hit last year on Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson (which Jackson does not remember due to the violence of the hit to his head) resulted in a heavy fine ($50,000, which was lowered to $25,000 on appeal) and was one of three such hits that spurred a midseason enforcement memo to all players. That same day, all of the teams played a DVD from the league (video) explaining the helmet-to-helmet hits would be met with equally harsh discipline from the league office.

The memo’s blustery language warned of flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits being a first-time-suspendable offense, but the new enforcement has yet to result in a benching. Robinson, who said Sunday, “I feel strongly that there will not be any further repercussion,” has now become emboldened to go out against the Buccaneers next Sunday and lay down the lumber on another defenseless receiver.

Rough play is part of the game, but is it a part of the game to cause a player to be unable to recall being hit? Is it an acceptable part of the game today, only to be followed by a story 20 years later of a former player who commits suicide because of the accumulated “acceptable” damage to his brain? When you read that story in 2031, you probably would think to yourself, “oh, that’s terrible,” and then continue on with your day.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Or, this way:

On Aug. 12, 1978, Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley, for the last time in his life, set his feet under his own power on the 10-yard line at the Oakland Coliseum. Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum administered a signature hit which sent Stingley limp to the turf, unable to move. With a compressed spinal cord and two broken vertebrae, Stingley was paralyzed from the neck down. He died in 2007 due to complications by quadriplegia.

And no one talks about a single touchdown Stingley caught or his statistics. It is the injury that defines his career. When Tatum died, headlines for his obituary made mention of the play. It was the hit that defined a career.

Is this the legacy that Robinson desires? Isn’t this an injury that the NFL would like to prevent?

The message sent by the NFL’s memo was loud and clear. The message sent by not fining Robinson was deafening.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)