Danny Trevathan is not a dirty player. Period.
Bear with me, I’ll explain.
As a Packers fan, I’ll admit my initial reaction to watching ‘the hit’ on Devante Adams, especially in slow motion, wasn’t so supportive of the Bears linebacker. In fact, I proceeded to debate his fate with Brad and Danny for the better part of 20 minutes. Needless to say, we weren’t all in agreement on the play and what would transpire next, but I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about the almost-visceral reaction (my own first impression included) aimed at Danny Trevathan.
A quick google search of the phrase ‘Devante Adams hit’ reveals the usual players weighing in on the topic, and disappointingly but unsurprisingly, they’re all ready to condemn Trevathan. In fact, the spin floating around the whole situation is downright ugly and malicious, in my opinion.
So to that end, let’s put the witch hunt in perspective by starting with facts.
Defenseless Player Rule
Was Trevathan’s hit on Adams flagrant? Yes. He lowered the crown of his helmet and made contact with Adam’s head. It doesn’t get much more flagrant than that, as demonstrated by the NFL’s defenseless player video.
Trevathan’s hit is even spelled out in the scenarios deemed enforceable with this rule.
Per the NFL, a defenseless player situation arises when “a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.” In this case, defenseless posture applies because of article number four – Adams was “a runner already in the grasp of a tackler” and many would say his “forward progress had been stopped.” His forward progress is debatable, I suppose.
The second qualification, unnecessary contact, is also clearly evident in this situation. The first article identified as “prohibited conflict against a defenseless posture” is “forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder…” etc, etc. This is indisputable.
It’s important to note, the Defenseless Player Rule makes no mention of intent as a requirement for enforcement. Regardless of Trevathan’s intentions he can be penalized if he’s found culpable under this rule.
But, what role does his intent play in the public sphere? Should we care?
Judging by the mainstream response, no one cares. But, we should absolutely care. On Thursday night, Trevathan was flagged for the hit appropriately and the referee explained his decision to not eject Trevathan. Trevathan’s never had a history of illegal hits to suggest ill intentions or previous poor judgement, and he’s apologized to Adams publicly for the play. Why vilify a man for playing a rough sport?
And, to be clear, I’m not excusing Trevathan’s hit on Adams. Finishing the play through the whistle is taught to every young football player as they’re coming up, but Trevathan made the wrong football play when he lowered the crown of his helmet and took his eyes off of Adams. I don’t believe he intended to cause injury, or to catch Adams helmet-to-helmet the way he did, but the NFL is pretty clear on this point and for good reason.
My colleagues may disagree with me on my assessment of the hit and my interpretation of it under the Defenseless Player Rule, but the NFL will likely make full use of its authority to level a fine and suspension. Whether the punishment fits the crime or Trevathan becomes an ‘example’ for the league is yet to be determined. With CTE a primary concern for the NFL, I don’t believe Trevathan has the slightest chance at bypassing a stiff punishment from the league though, and for that reason we don’t need to be fanning the flames of the league’s investigation. Rodger Goodell is no stranger to witch hunts, he’s already shown an affinity for carrying his own pitchfork.