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55 Yard Line

Khalif Mitchell’s two-game suspension is strict, but sends a vital message on player safety

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Khalif Mitchell won't have much to celebrate for the next two games.

It was apparent soon after the B.C. Lions' 27-14 loss to Edmonton Friday that defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell would face discipline for grabbing and hyperextending the arm of Edmonton guard Simeon Rottier, but the league's decision to hand him a two-game suspension is still relatively surprising. There have been plenty of disciplinary situations over the years, but only three players have actually served suspensions in the five years Mark Cohon has served as league commissioner, and those were all only for a single game. Fines have been a far more common response. However, while Mitchell's penalty is severe, it also seems justified; his actions Friday have no place in football, and suspending him without pay for two games sends a strong message that the league won't tolerate non-football actions that threaten its players.

The key problem with Mitchell's play (which you can see video of here) is that it looked like a direct attempt to injure, and it didn't come from a football action. Chris Schultz pointed out in a TSN column that trash talk between the offensive and defensive lines is nothing new, and trying to physically punish opponents is typically part of the game. Even a little bit of illegal contact isn't always frowned upon; guys like Rob Murphy played very much on the edge and sometimes over it with their willingness to "grab testicles and pinch love handles", and Murphy and Taylor Robertson even seemingly threatened opponents at one point. As Schultz noted, though, there's a sharp difference between the levels of threatening someone, giving them some pain on the field and deliberately trying to knock them out of a game:

I will never know if Rottier said or did something to set Mitchell off, but even if he did, trying to break another man's arm cannot be rationalized away. Anger, rage, temper or any desire that is out of control is dangerous, and to act on or out with those extreme emotions never ends well.

You really do have to be a little mentally unfit to take a man's arm and make an effort to break it.

This is where Mitchell's action is far closer to disturbing practices like player-sponsored bounties than the fight-for-every-edge philosophy espoused by players like Murphy, Jason Jimenez, Adriano Belli and Doug Brown. Sure, the latter can go too far at times as well, but the basic premise has always been much more about gaining a short-term on-field advantage than taking an opponent out. Mitchell's action, by contrast, resulted in Rottier leaving the game, and it's unlikely he'll be back this coming week. Rottier may have forgiven Mitchell, but neither he nor the league should forget about this incident; it goes beyond the realm of legitimate football plays, and that's likely what compelled the CFL to try and send a message here. There has to be consistency going forward, as it won't help if the next dangerous play of this calibre only draws a small fine, but this seems like a good place for the league to make a stand. Mitchell doesn't deserve to be eternally condemned, but he does deserve this punishment; hopefully he can learn from it going forward and keep his aggressiveness within the lines. Player safety is a critical issue for the CFL, and standing up for it is an important move for the league, even if it doesn't exactly match previous precedents.

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