On Eric Reid, NFL Officiating, and Double Standards

Eric Reid made headlines again this morning, not because of anything flag or cartoon related, but because of something that happened on the field.

He was ejected last night for laying this hit on Ben Roethlisberger during the Panthers’ 52-21 loss in Pittsburgh:

Gotta agree; it’s a bullshit move, and Roethlisberger’s teammates obviously felt that way. Five of them went over to confront Reid after the play. You can’t launch yourself at a sliding quarterback, and even though Reid didn’t make helmet-to-helmet contact, Ben’s head snaps back as he takes a shoulder to the dome while going to ground.

After the scuffle, Reid gave Roethlisberger a fist bump before leaving the field, so it didn’t seem like there was any lingering animosity between the QB and safety.

For context, Carolina was down 38 to 14 at the time. They had given up touchdown passes of 75 and 53 yards and the game was pretty much out of reach. That hit from Reid was a frustration play.

I’ve seen it a million times in every sport I’ve ever played. You’re pissed off, your team is playing like crap, you lose your cool and throw something cheap. Guys get frustrated in rec league basketball and commit hard fouls. I’ve seen studs-up tackles from 35-year-old dads in Saturday soccer. I shoved a dude on Wednesday night in a meaningless game because he grabbed my shirt. Sometimes you see the “red mist” and do dumb things.

It feels like Reid has been on edge ever since signing with the Panthers. He had the heated exchange with Malcolm Jenkins, whom he called a “sellout” after the game. He put a somewhat-late hit on Carson Wentz, a hit that resulted in the relatively docile Zach Ertz charging him in response. Last night’s lunge got him ejected. Personally, I think you just throw the flag for unnecessary roughness there. I don’t know if tossing him is necessary.

But I can also understand why Reid might be frustrated. He’s apparently been drug tested five times since signing with the Panthers a little more than a month ago. He thinks that NFL owners and executives colluded to keep him out of the league. It’s pretty obvious that the guy is aggrieved by what he feels was betrayal from his former Players Coalition partners and the alleged blackballing from higher up. I don’t think any of that justifies launching yourself at a sliding quarterback, but I’d imagine that his adrenaline is pumping a little more than the average NFL player.

I see some people out here suggesting that the NFL has it out for Reid because of his involvement in Colin Kaepernick’s protest, and maybe it’s true. I don’t know if officiating bias, as directed by the league office, is something that anybody can ever prove, but there have been similar plays in the NFL this year, plays that did not result in ejections or even penalties.

Case in point:

Mayfield slid late on that play and no flag was thrown, but the league came in later to overrule the on-field decision.

You can see it 52 seconds into this video:

Jordan Whitehead was ultimately fined $27,000 for that hit.

The explanation:

“(Mayfield’s) going to get contacted just as he starts to slide. We’re watching the defender as he lowers his head to initiate contact, and he does make contact, so that right there is a foul within itself. No. 2, as we can see the quarterback starts to slide, and even though he slides late, he is still afforded protection from forcible contact to the neck and head area.”

So that was an officiating mistake that’s now being used in the argument that there’s a double-standard being applied to Eric Reid because of his tenuous relationship with the NFL.

You can’t really say one thing definitively. Is it inconsistent officiating? Is it an unnecessary hit? Is the league out to get Eric Reid? I have no clue. It could very well be all three of those things at the same time. The first two suggestions are certainly more provable than the third. You also have to take into consideration the fact that Big Ben is a veteran QB. Is Carson Wentz getting that call? Probably not. Baker Mayfield didn’t get the call. Cam Newton has been hit like that at least 3-4 times this year that I can remember.

Speaking of Newton, last night some folks were using this play to demonstrate that aforementioned double standard against Reid:

I saw that play and first thought, “well, he hit his shoulder, so what?” But when you watch the replay, TJ Watt spears Newton on the arm with the crown of his helmet, which is illegal.

Here’s the rulebook on that hit:

In covering the passer position, Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly use the helmet and/or facemask to hit the passer, or use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area (see also the other unnecessary roughness rules covering these subjects). A defensive player must not use his helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture—for example, (1) forcibly hitting the passer’s head or neck area with the helmet or facemask, even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet or facemask is lower than the passer’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him; or (2) lowering the head and making forcible contact with any part of the helmet against any part of the passer’s body. This rule does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or non-crown parts of the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle on a passer.

It’s a penalty, whether we agree with it or not. That’s literally what’s written down in the rulebook. The optics then look something like this:

  • white defender hits black quarterback illegally – no flag
  • black defender hits white quarterback illegally – flag, scuffle, ejection

Social media arguments are shaped by these optics, reasonable or not. It really might not even have anything to do with any provable racial bias, it might just be shitty and inconsistent officiating.

I guess the point of the whole article is to point out that you see people picking sides on the Eric Reid debate and reinforcing their arguments with in-play examples like the ones I showed you. It’s unfortunate that the NFL conflict regarding social justice and race would be shaped in any way by the performance of the officials, but here we are.

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