Stephen Weatherly started clapping. Right there, in front of his locker. I thought he was going to do a sack dance.
“Oooh — a hot-button topic!” he said. “Man, this is my first one! Thank you for this opportunity to either A) make a fool of myself or B) represent myself in a proper manner.
“In regards to the topic at hand …”
I asked Weatherly, the promising Vikings defensive lineman, for his reaction to Browns star Myles Garrett smashing Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with Rudolph’s helmet on Thursday night.
Friday, the NFL suspended Garrett for the rest of the season. Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was suspended one game for shoving Rudolph, and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was suspended three games for punching and kicking Garrett. All three were suspended without pay. The NFL also fined each organization $250,000.
So in regards to the topic at hand …
“There is no place for that,” Weatherly said. “Tempers do get hot, being in the moment, being in the game. Sometimes you get tested. But at the end of the day it is a game. Nothing should take you to that point.”
You never know what you’re going to get when you ask NFL players about violence. As a rookie, Harrison Smith almost laughed when I asked about player safety. Defensive players have chafed at the notion that they couldn’t use their heads as weapons, or opponents’ heads as targets.
Even hard hitters in a violent game viewed Garrett’s use of a helmet as unconscionable.
“If I were their coaches, I would have had a long talk with those guys,” Vikings defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “I was watching the game and I was embarrassed, watching them. This is what we do for a living and for a guy to go out there and throw helmets, it makes you look bad.
“I would sit those guys for the rest of the season. You’re done. Whatever happens after the season, we’ll talk that through, but for now you’re not playing.”
The most violent NFL brawls tend to happen during training camp, when young players are trying to prove themselves, and everyone is tired of hitting the same people every day.
“I’ve gotten into a couple of fights in practice,” Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill said. “It’s pushing and shoving and then you realize you’re punching a helmet, and you’re going to be tired in 20 seconds, and you’re going to have to go run 10 more plays whether the fight ends now or in 20 seconds. You’re going to be tired, so you may as well end it now.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer looked disgusted. Even more than usual.
“It was terrible,” he said. “It was awful. It was ridiculous. That shouldn’t happen in our game.”
Weatherly excelled at robotics in high school, graduated from Vanderbilt and has read plenty of books with letters other than X’s and O’s in them. Allow him to make an obscure literary reference no one else would.
“Remember Johnny Boy?” he said.
You’re not really bringing up “The Outsiders” in an NFL locker room? “The Outsiders”? And a stabbing?
“Yeah, ‘The Outsiders,’ and stabbing,” he said. “We’re a long way from that. You don’t want that. It’s a game. We take a good amount of licks at each other at the whistle, but to use equipment? It’s a gentleman’s thing. Kind of like hockey. Drop the stick, drop the gloves. Certain lines should never be crossed and that’s one of them.”
O’Neill is known for playing through the whistle (translation: driving opponents into their bench). But he doesn’t look around for a weapon while doing so.
“Stuff comes up in competitive environments like that,” he said. “But you want to try to never cross the line. At the end of the day, it’s mutual respect for each other. The league is a fraternity. I don’t play that way.”
Nobody wants to see Johnny stabbing anybody. Not on “Thursday Night Football.”