Ryan Clark’s first fine for an illegal hit drew nothing but a remorseful nod from the Pittsburgh Steelers safety.
The second fine – this one for a violent collision with Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson on Sunday night – drew his wrath.
”This is the worst, period, point blank,” Clark said.
The Ravens were driving late in the first half when quarterback Joe Flacco tried to hit Dickson running up the seam. Dickson got his hands on the ball before Clark smashed into him. Dickson wasn’t hurt on the play, though it appeared his facemask collided into the back of Clark’s helmet before the ball squirted free.
Clark was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the 15-yard penalty helped the Ravens end the half with a Billy Cundiff field goal on their way to a 23-20 victory.
The next day the league hit Clark with a $40,000 penalty for what Clark felt was a perfectly normal play and left him wondering if the NFL has gone too far in policing dangerous hits, particularly ones doled out by the defending AFC champions.
”There wasn’t anything malicious about it,” Clark said. ”It wasn’t a spear. It wasn’t a forearm to the head. It wasn’t any of those things and to be fined $40,000 for that? To me it’s either targeting me as a single player or it’s targeting this team.”
The Steelers have been fined 13 times for more than $182,000 this season, with Clark’s latest the biggest of the bunch.
Coach Mike Tomlin notified Clark of the fine on Monday, though Clark says referees never offered him an explanation for the flag and he believed he would get a reprieve after league officials got a look at the tape.
”I was actually expecting to get a call back and say that it wasn’t wrong, because it wasn’t,” Clark said. ”I did everything I was asked to do and (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell and all those other guys, they sit in their office with their suits and make these decisions on what a split-second reaction by the player is and this time it’s wrong.”
The fine was the second in as many weeks for Clark. He didn’t appeal when the league slapped him with a $15,000 fine for hitting New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski out of bounds in a 25-17 Pittsburgh victory on Oct. 30.
The case then was pretty cut and dried. Gronkowski was clearly out of the field of play when Clark decked him.
”I took the last fine for good,” Clark said. ”I didn’t know the guy was out of bounds and I kept playing. I could see why you call something like that.”
He remains baffled by the interpretation of the hit on Dickson and said Tomlin used tape of the play as an example of how to dislodge a receiver from the ball.
”We looked at the film and watched it and I went back and watched it and if you slow it down it’s as picture perfect of a tackle as you can make,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Tomlin rallied around Clark, saying in a statement he felt the fine was ”excessive” and ”Ryan has my full support if he chooses to appeal this in any way.”
Clark hasn’t decided whether to ask the league to take a second look, mostly because of the way the process is handled.
The players can appeal to former NFL coaches Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, who are paid by the league and the NFL Players Association to handle such cases. Their appeal must be heard by the second Tuesday following notification of the discipline. Goodell can become involved in the process at any time.
The Steelers aren’t into conspiracy theories, but they’re also the only team in the league that voted against the CBA. Clark, who serves as the team’s union player representative, believes NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith should get involved. His teammates don’t think it’s a bad idea.
”That’s his job. I think he should do something because right now it seems like they can do whatever they want to,” linebacker James Harrison said.
The NFLPA did not immediately return a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Regardless, Clark argues if the hit against Dickson was against the rules, he’s not sure what’s legal anymore.
”Am I supposed to let him catch it and then wait for him and hug him?” Clark said. ”Should I throw a pillow at him? Should I blow a whistle? `Hey look, I’m about to tackle you.’ No, that’s not football.”
Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis agrees. The All-Pro was also fined for making helmet-to-helmet contact with Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, who immediately left the game with concussion-like symptoms.
”You can’t stop playing defense the way defense has always been created to play,” Lewis said. ”When the receiver has the ball, your job is to disengage him from the ball. You never want to hurt nobody. I’ve been in this business too long. I just think once you start getting into these fines I don’t know how they come up with the numbers most of the time.”
Neither does Clark, who threatened to go out and blatantly earn the fine next time.
”So it’s going to turn into if you’re going to fine me $40,000, I might as well put him to sleep for real or I might as well blow his knee out,” Clark said.