A backup linebacker punches his starting quarterback, breaking his jaw and rendering him unable to play for six to 10 weeks, and the first thought of Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan is to get that guy under contract as soon as possible.
It sounds like a joke, does it not? Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
On Tuesday, the New York Jets released backup linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali because he sucker-punched starting quarterback Geno Smith in the team’s locker room. About 24 hours later, the Bills signed Enemkpali, and Ryan spoke to reporters and called Enemkpali a good teammate.
Absurdity and Ryan – who coached the Jets from 2009 to 2014 – typically go hand in hand, so the latest twist in this bizarre saga is less stunning than it would be had some other team acquired Enemkpali so quickly. Regardless, for a team to immediately sign a player who has just been fired for punching a colleague is simply ludicrous.
The move feels eminently disrespectful toward the Jets and toward Smith – who will require surgery – in particular. It would be appalling enough for a team to instantly sign any player that one day earlier had punched someone, but Ryan jumped at the chance to employ a player who assaulted a man with whom Ryan had worked for the previous two years.
The enthusiasm with which Ryan brought in Enemkpali also reveals the coach’s standards for his team.
Enemkpali made a horrible decision by punching someone, and Ryan essentially validated that action as an acceptable one by welcoming the player almost before the ink dried on New York’s press release about releasing Enemkpali.
Ryan decried the violence by the linebacker, but the coach’s actions seem to indicate he actually believes that what Enemkpali did is not so bad.
People no doubt hold different views on when it is appropriate to punch someone. One person might believe it is never okay. Others may say a punch is merited when the other person starts an altercation. Others might believe physical confrontation is warranted for a serious betrayal, such as sleeping with someone’s significant other.
I have a feeling, however, that relatively few people would argue that a dispute over $600 qualifies as a sound reason to commit a criminal act and jeopardize a career.
The problem between Smith and Enemkpali reportedly stemmed from a disagreement over the $600 cost for a plane ticket Enemkpali purchased for Smith for an event Smith had planned to attend. Smith ended up not going, but he did not reimburse Enemkpali for the ticket.
Smith should repay a debt if he owes one, of course, but the amount in question here is not one that should make or break either man. Enemkpali had a base salary of $420,000 last season, while Smith made a base salary of $633,164. We can only presume Enemkpali had first tried a more civil approach to recoup his $600 before resorting to violence, but failure in earlier attempts should not have led to this.
If you lend someone money and they fail to pay you back, you do not punch them. You should not lend them money again. You might want to consider terminating the friendship. You would be remiss to trust them or recommend for anyone else to do likewise. Assaulting that person, however, is a drastic overreaction.
Smith might be a stubborn jerk for not repaying a debt, but that does not make it acceptable for Enemkpali to punch him in the face.
By not only signing Enemkpali but signing him immediately after the incident that prompted the Jets to release him, Ryan sends a message to his players that anything goes.
Attack a teammate? Get into an altercation in a bar? (Now seems a good place to mention that in college Enemkpali was charged with disturbing the peace and battery of a police officer during a bar fight.) As long as you had a good reason, players might believe, perhaps the coach will understand. Perhaps players would not use Ryan’s response to Enemkpali’s mistake as a measuring stick for any of their own transgressions, but for them to do so would hardly be unreasonable.
Of course, Ryan also brought Richie Incognito and Percy Harvin to the Bills, so acquiring Enemkpali is simply the coach following the precedent he has set. Once more, the fact that this coach made the move to sign Enemkpali makes it much less surprising than if any other team had done so.
Nevertheless, this signing is mind-boggling, and for those players who strive to represent themselves and their teams well, it has to be disappointing.
Originally from the Kansas City area, Ashley spent the last two years in Detroit covering the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons – and some Michigan and Michigan State – as the sports writer for CBS Detroit. She previously spent three years as a correspondent for the Associated Press, covering football and basketball at Kansas State. She grew up watching the Chiefs and the Royals, but her soon-to-be husband is the true Royals devotee. The light-hearted argument over where to put the bobbleheads in the new apartment has already begun.