Rules? Come on, this is the NFL! Rules about conduct rarely apply.
When’s the last time a team allowed a little thing like a rules violation to come into conflict with another far more important thing called winning?
This weekend, that’s when.
I discovered that the Jacksonville Jaguars were suspending their rookie running back Leonard Fournette ninety minutes before game time. It was only important to me because a) I had money on the Bengals and b) I had Fournette on my fantasy team.
I adjusted my fantasy lineup only hours after Jacksonville did so for real, both of us benching Fournette who would see no action for the day.
The team’s official statement regarding the suspension was tight-lipped:
Leonard Fournette is not playing in today’s game due to an infraction of a team rule. This has been addressed internally and further details will not be made public.
Of course, nothing remains too secret in today’s America. A quick search through social media revealed Fournette was being suspended for missing a team photo.
A team photo? Suspended for the game? That seems a little harsh, don’t you think? You’re going to risk losing a game for that? Ron Rivera benched his star quarterback Cam Newton last year for failing to meet the dress code (not wearing a tie off the team bus) but he still played in the game. Heck, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys is filing lawsuit after lawsuit to allow his star running back to continue playing and avoid or at least postpone legal charges for fisticuffs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, a team fighting for playoff position, put themselves in serious jeopardy of a loss by doing what they believed was right. They robbed (or more appropriately Fournette did) their fans the opportunity to see their star rookie because of a photo op gone bad.
So, I ask you, did the Jacksonville Jaguars do the right thing by suspending Fournette or did the team overreact?
It’s tough to quantify what an NFL win means in dollars or better yet, hosting a home playoff game. On Sunday, the Jags proved that is of secondary importance. I imagine it’s equally difficult to put a figure on a winning, disciplined culture, something it looks like the Jaguars are doing their best to create.
It’s easy for us as fans to say that we’d for certain suspend Fournette under similar circumstances. Maybe those of us more concerned with how many points Fournette yields our fantasy team (present company included) need to have OUR priorities reexamined. As laughable as it seems to bench a star player for missing an appointment, the Jaguars, formerly a league laughing stock, appear to be running their franchise the right way.
This story has a happy ending. Even without Fournette, one of the league’s leading rushers, the Jaguars beat Cincinnati, proving no one man is bigger than the team. They took him out, plopped another running back in and got the job done.
Ultimately, it’s up to Fournette to realize what his employer requires of him. While they’d rather not have to, Jacksonville is clearly prepared to play without him.