This week has made me question for the hundredth thousandth time why I continue to support the New York Jets. This poorly managed, “butt fumble” tainted, agonizingly painful joke of an organization continuously raises up the hopes of the fans that “this will be the year” (as Rex Ryan famously guaranteed twice in his six year tenure as coach of the team) only to immediately stomp on those dreams. This year the Jets looked like they were a team on the rise. A new general manager, a new coach, and new personnel were all signs that pointed to a potential reboot of an organization that seemed to have been going in reverse since 2010. However, as Ian O’Connor wrote for ESPN, “No matter how many noisemakers they eventually send out the door, from Rex Ryan to Santonio Holmes, nothing ever changes.” On Wednesday, the Jets once again proved their overall ineptitude when second-year linebacker IK Enemkpali punched and broke the jaw of starting quarterback Geno Smith stemming from a dispute over $600 that Enemkpali believed he was owed by Smith. Smith is expected to miss 6-10 weeks with a broken jaw and Enemkpali was immediately released from the team. This incident is just another in a long list that exposes the Jets, once again, as an organization that is poorly run from the top down.
In a broader scope, this situation also exposes the NFL as being another poorly run group of people that uses a double standard when handing down punishment. When the Jets cut Enemkpali, a sixth round pick in 2014, they reinforced the idea that the less talented a player is, the harsher the punishment he will receive. Last season, when Jonathan Dwyer, a former running back for the Arizona Cardinals, was arrested for domestic violence during training camp, he was immediately cut from the team. Dwyer, a career third down back and kick returner, has not been approached by any teams since his release because he is thought of as too much of a liability. However, running back Ray Rice, the former starter for the Baltimore Ravens, was initially given just a two game suspension despite the NFL having seen video of him assaulting his wife in an elevator (he was released from the team after the video became public and caused an outcry from the fans). Rice has even received interest from the Browns this off-season to try out for the team, while Dwyer still sits at home and waits for his second chance. Greg Hardy, a 2013 Pro-Bowl defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, was suspended for almost the entire 2014 season because of domestic abuse charges but was rewarded with an $11.3 million contract from the Cowboys this season because his talent exceeds his off the field issues.
If the punch that broke Geno Smith’s jaw had been thrown by 6x Pro-Bowler and 4x All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis instead of Enemkpali, who was fighting just to make the team, I think the narrative of the situation would have been drastically different. Revis may have been labeled a “gritty locker room leader” for standing up to his teammate, or it could have been made to seem like it was Smith’s fault for not paying Revis back the money he was owed. Even if Smith had thrown the punch instead of Enemkpali, I think the end result would have been the same. Enemkpali would have been cut for being a “distraction”, and Smith would have, in all likelihood, remained the week 1 starter for the Jets. If you think I’m wrong, look no further than how the Jets have treated the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson this off-season. Richardson was suspended four games by the league for failing a drug test, and two weeks later he was arrested for a DUI. Despite all of this, Richardson is still cashing paychecks signed by Jets’ owner Woody Johnson, and he is still allowed to attend training camp. If Richardson was a player fighting for a spot on the team, he would have been released and never heard from again.
The NFL is a league that thrives on superstars and story lines. There was no thought to suspending Tom Brady for the 2015 Super Bowl after he was caught cheating in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, but if that had been his backup Jimmy Garoppolo that was caught instead, I think it is fair to hypothesize that Garoppolo would have been watching that game from home. The last thing Goodell wants is for his best players and biggest money makers to miss time during the most important games. At the same time, Goodell does not want below average players tainting the image of the NFL. This is a sentiment that trickles down to the owners. Woody Johnson knows that the team will be better when Richardson comes back and that he will be able to sell Richardson jerseys as if nothing had happened. Johnson also knows that the same can not be said for IK Enemkpali. This double standard of league punishment is tainting the NFL more than the actions of players that are fighting to make a team. Something needs to change.