Argos quarterback Cleo Lemon lies on the Rogers Centre field after getting hit by Bombers linebacker Joe Lobendahn on Saturday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
How do you get ejected for a good hard hit on a quarterback?
It was a hot day in Toronto this past Saturday, as the barometre hit temperatures above 35 C, and Argos head coach Jim Barker was still steaming after his team's tough loss to Winnipeg. In his post-game interview, Barker was not pleased with the ejection of his starting middle linebacker, Ejiro Kuale, for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce.
Look, I can understand that we need to protect the CFL quarterbacks. Let's face it: football is an entertainment business event, and the entertainment value of games is predicated on the health of the starting quarterbacks.
Today, with bigger faster players, football is no longer a contact sport, but rather a collision sport. There have been attempts by the league to protect the quarterbacks and the entertainment value of our game.
I completely agree with the decision by officials to aggressively throw an unnecessary roughness penalty for hits on quarterbacks while they are between the tackles. The throwing position of the quarterback does place them in a vulnerable spot with injuries and there needs to be some rules in place to give them some protection.
The league has worked hard to communicate to defensive coaches, and defensive players, that hits on quarterbacks above the shoulders and below the knees will result in a 15-yard penalty.
However, when quarterbacks leave the pocket - the protected space between the tackles - they turn from being a quarterback into a running back, and therefore no longer have additional protection that applies to them.
The hit that led to Kuale's ejection happened at the tail end of an extended play where Pierce was using his legs to buy himself, and his receivers, some time to deliver a pass down field. As he emerged from the pocket, Kuale had the defensive responsibility to contain Pierce from running further towards the sidelines. He sprinted towards Pierce with the intent to deliver a hit on the Bombers pivot that would make him think twice about running with the football again in the future.
No intent to injure
Did Kuale hit Pierce late? Probably. Did he deliberately throw his head into Pierce's helmet with the intent to injure him? Please.
If the official deemed that the hit was late, the call on the field should have been unnecessary roughness on the passer and resulted in a 15-yard penalty. However, the official felt that Kuale's intent was to injure Pierce and so the call on the field was for rough play, which resulted in his ejection.
The name of this major foul, rough play, always makes me laugh because isn't every play on the football field a rough play? The game of football is a vicious game played by vicious people. The problem with the ruling of rough play is that it can be a purely subjective call by the official and applying the call based on no physical evidence at all. The explanation offered to Barker as to why his starting middle linebacker was ejected was because his intent was to injure the quarterback.
How do you measure intent?
It is reasonable to believe that Kuale, who stands 6'2, would have been sprinting towards Pierce with his hands up high to disrupt the throw down field, and as he aggressively ran through Pierce, who stands 6'1, his helmet would have been at the unfortunate height to hit him directly in his helmet.
Please explain to me how Kuale's hit was more vicious than Winnipeg linebacker Joe Lobendahn's hit on Toronto QB Cleo Lemon earlier in the game? Did Kuale intend to injure Peirce, or did he intend to hit him hard? His desire to nail Peirce was no more extreme that the hit that Lobendahn delivered on Lemon, which popped his helmet off along with a tooth.
Lobendahn was not planning on pleasantly wrapping Lemon up and gently taking him to the ground. How are these two head-to-head collisions different?
I understand that the league is doing its best to try to protect players from injury by cracking down on helmet-to helmet-hits. There have been two fines already handed out this season. The interesting point is that neither of these two hits produced a penalty during the games, but rather resulted in a league fine that was communicated several days later after the film was reviewed.
I would not be surprised to see Lobendahn also get a fine for his tooth-jarring, helmet-popping hit on Lemon later this week.
Rough play is defined in the CFL rule book as specific measurable acts like, striking a player with a fist, hand, knee or elbow in an excessively rough manner or kicking an opponent.
I am good with these definitions, as they speak to specific actions. The last definition of rough play in the rule book kills me: or an act of excessive roughness considered by the referee to warrant disqualification. This is a purely subjective call that is in no way measurable and therefore highly debatable.
Experiencing a subjective infraction
I had the misfortune of experiencing the subjective nature of this infraction while playing for the Calgary Stampeders. It occurred on a special teams play. I was on the punt return team and we had called a sideline return which gave me the responsibility of ensuring that the kick was made and then I was to join the wall of blockers down the sideline and hit anything in an opposite coloured jersey.
After ensuring the kick, I looped around to find someone to block which just so happened to be the punter who had made the unfortunate decision of making his way down field to attempt a tackle. With me drooling at the mouth and licking my chops, I accelerated into the punter in such a way as to remind him that he should never make the decision to go down field ever again. The blow that I delivered to this punter bent his body in two, and the first thing that hit the turf was his head.
Immediately the official threw the flag for rough play and I was ejected from the game. As I was getting ushered off the field by two officials I pleaded my case that I was making a football play on a player who was attempting to go downfield to disrupt my team's ability to advance the football.
The explanation that I received back from the official was that I didn't need to hit him so hard. Are you serious? I get ejected out of a football game for that?
Intent to hurt a player on the football field is easy to spot as it looks abnormal and out of place on the football field. A clothesline across the head of your opponent is an action intended to injure. Throwing an elbow into the face of your opponent as you contact them is intent to injure. Diving at a player's knee is an action that is intended to injure.
Running through a player aggressively is just a good hit.
The success of an officiating crew is when they control the game in such a way that the players get to dictate the outcome of the game. In this instance, the official made a call that affected the outcome of the game.
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