Friday, December 14, 2018

NFL Fines Ellison - A Postgame Lesson from Eddings

After the National Football League fined umpire Roy Ellison $9,300 (one game fee for an NFL ump) for purportedly calling a player a derogatory name during a postgame argument, we recall Doug Eddings' different method of handling an abuse incident following a game in 2015. While the NFL significantly punished Ellison, Eddings received no such public admonishment from MLB. Why?

How should officials react to postgame abuse?
This article will explore the Ellison and Eddings postgame player/coach abuse incidents, as well as Ellison's and Eddings' different approaches to situation handling that saw the former in hot water with the league while the latter simply went on with his regular duties.

Ellison & Hughes: According to a league source, the NFL's decision to fine and reinstate Ellison, after placing him on administrative leave, follows a postgame confrontation between Ellison and Buffalo Bills player Jerry Hughes on December 2. Upon leaving the field and heading to the officials' room after Miami defeated Buffalo that day, Hughes appeared to follow Ellison and seek out a conflict. In turn, Ellison purportedly called Hughes a derogatory name as Hughes shouted back toward Ellison, resulting in the League's decision to place Ellison on administrative leave.

Umpire Ellison Fined: After reviewing the evidence, the NFL fined Ellison $9,300—or his standard per-game rate—and reinstated him for this weekend's games. In other words, Ellison's punishment was a de facto suspension last week, and forfeiture of his entire game fee from the December 2 Bills-Dolphins contest.

Player Hughes Fined: Buffalo DE Hughes received a $53,482 fine for his actions. Hughes is set to earn approximately $10.4 million, including bonuses, or $6.35 million in base salary alone, which means his $53,482 fine represents approximately 0.84% of this base salary figure, or about one-seventh of a game fee.

SIDEBAR: 0.84% is notably greater than the .09%-of-salary demonstrated by MLB's $10,000 fine dished to Ian Kinsler for his postgame personal remarks about Angel Hernandez in 2017.
Related PostToken Gesture - Kinsler Fined $10k, .09% of $11m Salary (8/21/17).

Lessons Learned: What we see here is the high standard officials are held to and what happens when an official's interpersonal actions deviate from that standard.

Umpires toss players/coaches. Not vice versa.
Power Imbalance: In short, sports officials have power over players and coaches; referees and umpires have the authority to warn, disqualify, or eject dissenting or unsporting team personnel, while team members enjoy no such power over the contest officials.

Because of this dynamic, the onus on upstanding citizenship must fall to the officials.

Different Era: Earlier this week, tmac's Teachable Moment featured Jerry Crawford's animated arguments with Lou Piniella and Don Zimmer (and another with AJ Hinch).
Related PostTeachable - Feisty Ejections, Jerry Crawford Style (12/12/18).

We wrote that Crawford umpired during a different time where ferocious battles like these were commonplace, and that this 'old school' approach isn't as welcome in sports anymore, but don't let the veracity of yesterday's ejection theatre detract from one of these central points from this Teachable's conclusion: "I'm not saying scream at the dugout. But don't allow them to run you over, either. Be stern, be fair, and most of all, be in control."

Crawford's battles were measured.
Let's look at that last phrase, "be in control." The reason Ellison received such a punishment was that he was not in control. Yes, it's true that an official's recourse for postgame misconduct can be rather limited, especially when the act occurs outside the visual confines of the playing area or near the officiating crew's dressing room, and it's similarly true that this is when we as officials are often at our most vulnerable.

Even so, we must remain "in control" and, as Crawford did in the Teachable, "let you know I'm here," while still not crossing the line into personal insults, as Ellison purportedly did by allegedly calling Hughes a derogatory name.

Consider this: If a player or coach flagrantly violates the sporting rules by verbally attacking or abusing an official, the official's recourse is to issue an administrative warning, technical foul, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, code violation, misconduct, game misconduct, and/or ejection.

Crawford tells Hinch it's time to go.
Those are a lot of options (yes, from many different sports, but the point is that every sport's rules book provides officials with recourse to combat abuse from players and coaches). In other words, if a coach threatens, insults, or otherwise engages in unsporting behavior, the official's response is prescribed by book—it effectively punishes the offender while professionally reinforcing the official's authority, without devolving into ad hominem insults or off-topic attacks.

Even after Crawford finishes his bobblehead sequence with AJ Hinch in the aforementioned Teachable, he quickly returns to the rulebook by ordering Hinch to leave the field (which Hinch does shortly thereafter). Again, Crawford's rhubarbs were largely controlled.

Now, if a player or coach engages in such misconduct after the game is over and after the official's jurisdiction over the game has terminated, the official's recourse is to document the misconduct and file a report with the assignor, supervisor, commissioner, league, conference, etc. At this point, the contest rules largely fall away and it's now an issue of violating league protocol, rather than violating an individual contest rule. Because the governing documents and codes are different in this postgame environment, it requires a different tact.

Ejection 161: Doug Eddings (3; Ian Kinsler)
Example of Proper Umpire Response to Postgame Misconduct (Eddings): After losing to Boston on April 29, 2015, Blue Jays coach Brook Jacoby allegedly shoved 3B Umpire Doug Eddings in a Fenway Park hallway leading to the clubhouses and umpire room. MLB also fined Toronto Manager John Gibbons $5,000 for contributing to the incident with unsporting comments prior to the hallway event.

Toronto had complained about HP Umpire Adrian Johnson's strike zone during the game, but the crew effected no ejections—in fact, none of Eddings' 85 major league ejections through 2018 have featured a Blue Jay.

Jacoby's alleged actions weren't solely confined to verbal abuse (he accused MLB of a "very biased, harsh, and unfair" penalty, adding that he refused to apologize despite reports stating he allegedly "pinned Eddings against the wall and had his arm around his throat") and could have provoked Eddings into a fight, which we would certainly have heard about. Instead, Eddings handled it a different way, and he didn't receive any punishment for his response.

The reason we didn't see any publicly announced discipline for Eddings is because according to multiple reports—from crew chief Bill Miller, a Red Sox security staffer, and MLB's Resident Security Agent assigned to Boston—Eddings didn't cross the line with Jacoby as Ellison purportedly did with Hughes on December 2, 2018. Instead, he let his crew chief, Miller, file a report with the league, and MLB took care of the purported postgame miscreant, suspending Jacoby 14 games, or about nine percent of his salary. Just your standard offseason lesson in handling incidents after the game is over.
Related PostJays Appeal Punishment for Jacoby-Eddings Ump Shove (5/5/15).


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