The NFL takes criticism for often appearing to have its priorities out of whack, especially in determining what behavior it wants to punish. Monday brought more questions about the league, after Cam Newton got hit in the head on a play that resulted in a 15-yard penalty — one called on the Panthers quarterback for taunting his Redskins tackler.
On a second-quarter play in the Carolina-Washington game, Newton was scrambling toward the sideline when he slid down after a short gain. Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy hit Newton while he was going to the turf, making helmet-to-helmet contact with the quarterback, and Newton responded by flicking the football at Murphy after he got back to his feet.
Many observers were outraged at the fact that Newton got flagged for his act while Murphy went unpunished. Not only are blows to the head supposed to be area of particular concern for the NFL, especially given its problems with players developing brain diseases, but Newton had given himself up on the play and didn’t even need to be touched to be considered down.
ESPN’s own officiating expert, former referee Gerry Austin, agreed that Murphy should have gotten a flag, although he also thought that penalizing Newton for the taunt was fair.
Meanwhile, the Internet lit up with more strongly expressed opinions. Many noted that the non-call on Murphy was all the more glaring because Newton has taken more than his share of hits to the head this season, with some previous incidents also going unpunished.
ESPN’s Michael Wilbon went on an extended Twitter rant about the incident.
It’s been a tough season for Newton, whose play has been well below last year’s MVP form and whose defending NFC champion Panthers came into Monday’s game with a 5-8 record. Getting flagged for taunting after taking a helmet-to-helmet blow will only add to his frustrations, as well as add to questions about the NFL’s priorities.