By now you've probably heard that the NFL has fined Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk $10,000 for flashing his middle finger at the team's bench during last Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, a story first reported by Fox Sports' Jay Glazer.
Hawk has apologized for the gesture and said it was an inside joke with teammates he declined to name. Regardless, the discipline has conjured the Hypocrisy Police. They are wondering why Hawk received a five-digit fine for his one-digit salute, while neither Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz nor San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh were disciplined for their part in last Sunday's postgame fracas at Ford Field.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was among the first to take to Twitter: "A.J. Hawk fined 10k for flashing a middle finger as an inside joke. Harbaugh and Schwartz fined nothing for fighting. #doublestandardmuch"
Part of me wants to note that there are two different sets of circumstances here. The other is begging me to quote the NFL's own 2011 standards for game-related discipline. Here it is:
"It is important to note that the unsportsmanlike conduct rules apply to all personnel in the team area, including players, coaches, team employees, and officials. Lack of respect or other unsportsmanlike conduct will not be tolerated during games or at other times, including postgame interviews. This includes abusive, threatening, insulting, or profane language or gestures, and physical acts by coaches, players, and other club personnel directed at opponents, officials, game personnel, or fans."
Normally I like to push back on the Hypocrisy Police, but in this case they have a point. It's true that NFL players are governed under a collectively bargained system of discipline they have tacitly agreed to. And yes, we should point out that Schwartz and Harbaugh didn't actually fight. Harbaugh did slap Schwartz on the back during their post-game handshake, and Schwartz bumped Harbaugh's shoulder from behind. But otherwise there was just a lot of yelling, screaming and "hold-me-backs."
Coaches aren't governed under the CBA, but they are supposed to be held to the standard quoted above. The NFL said neither man was disciplined because they didn't fight. But I think you could make an argument that their behavior was "unsportsmanlike" and "threatening," not to mention "insulting" and "profane." I don't think anyone would have protested had they been fined.
So where does this leave us? Hawk has no room to complain about his fine. He got caught in an act that is clearly covered under the rules he plays under. The coaches? Quite frankly, they caught a break. The money itself is not as big of a deal as is the message: The NFL tacitly condoned a coach melee on one of its fields minutes after an emotional game. We'll file that away for the next one.