After reminding teams to leave the fakery on the soccer pitch and the bluffing to the poker table, the NFL finds itself in a feverish feud with New Orleans Saints star Cameron Jordan.
The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end vehemently denies the league's accusation that he pretended to get hurt in a recent game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers and is appealing his $50,000 fine.
In a memo sent to teams on Dec. 2 and obtained by The Associated Press, the NFL said the league has “observed multiple instances of clubs making a deliberate attempt to stop play unnecessarily this season.”
That's a big no-no, especially in an era when professional football has gone from evading the gambling industry to embracing it.
A growing number of states have legal sports betting markets, including Arizona, where State Farm Stadium in Glendale now features an on-site BetMGM Sportsbook and will host the Super Bowl in February.
That will make Arizona the first regulated sports betting state to host the big game since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada, known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, in 2018.
The most popular sports league in North America, one that generates revenues of more than $17 billion a year, cannot afford any dishonesty, real or perceived.
Thus, the league's memo to teams, which included the pertinent part of the 2022 Policy Manual for Member Clubs that states, “Any deliberate attempt by a team and/or player to stop play unnecessarily; prolong or delay the process; improperly take advantage of a stoppage in play; or influence the actions of an ATC Spotter will be considered an ‘unfair act’ and may result in discipline, in addition to any on-field penalty assessed by the Game Officials.”
Football has seen its share of make-believe injuries just like baseball has phantom tags and fake throws, and basketball and soccer have their share of flops. On the gridiron, it's usually done to slow the opponents' momentum or pace and give the defense a breather and a chance to reset.
The Saints and Jordan deny they purposely delayed the game in the fourth quarter last week before Brady engineered a late comeback from a 13-point deficit with three minutes remaining for a 17-16 Buccaneers win.
The Saints led 16-3 midway through the fourth quarter under the Monday night lights and Tampa Bay was facing fourth-and-10 on its own 25 when Jordan stalled the game by signaling to the Saints’ bench that he had an injury. When the game resumed, the Buccaneers punted.
The NFL's memo said the league "continues to emphasize the importance of upholding the integrity of the game and competitive fairness as our highest priority.”
What about the integrity of his good name?
That's what Jordan has been wondering aloud as he assails the league for fining him along with the team ($350,000), head coach Dennis Allen ($100,000) and co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen ($50,000).
Allen said the team did nothing wrong but he can’t discuss the matter further at this time.
Jordan sure can.
He said Monday he has a left foot sprain and if the matter were in civil court, he’d “countersue for triple the amount.”
Jordan and his agent, Doug Hendrickson, have said they are appealing the $50,000 fine, which Hendrickson labeled “idiotic.”
The Saints said over the weekend that Jordan's injury was real, insisting he “felt foot pain following a third-down play and sought medical attention. He entered the blue medical tent and was examined by the medical staff and following the examination he was taped and able to finish the game.”
The Saints have said Jordan returned to the game only after being examined by physicians and having his left foot taped up. They also said a subsequent MRI revealed an acute mid-foot sprain and Jordan visited Saints headquarters daily during the club’s Week 14 bye to receive treatment.
Jordan has played in 188 games — and started 187 — out of a possible 190 in his 12-year NFL career, including one last season when he had to sit out for a positive COVID-19 test.
“The amount of work I’ve put into being a part of the league, the amount of honor I take in playing this game, that’s why I also laugh at this,” said Jordan, who has earned a reputation among the Saints for playing through pain.
“You know my track record,” he said. “You know I do everything I can to try to be on the field and be part of the team."
The league contends Jordan feigned being hurt and that, in turn, harms the game itself. There's no denying the veracity of Jordan's anger over that accusation.
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