Opinion: T.J. Ward guilty of hiding behind the rules
It's called intent to injure, and Cleveland Browns safety T. J. Ward is guilty of it.
Ward, as every football fan in the civilized world undoubtedly knows, ended New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's season on Sunday afternoon, delivering a vicious hit on the All Pro's right knee, initiating a collision so violent that Gronkowski - who had a half a foot in height and 65 pounds on Ward - did a complete flip with a half twist before landing hand on his head and heavily padded left arm.
Despite the train wreck that ensued, no flag was thrown on the play.
It was a legal hit within the scope of the NFL guidelines, but was downright dirty when examined within the scope of decency, of respect for your opponent and of just being a human being.
Ward has his apologists, including many in the Boston media market, notoriously critical Ron Borges of the Boston Herald for one and, of course, the writers that earn their bones directly from the league at NFL.com
"When they set the rule, everyone knew what was going to happen . It's pretty much inevitable and they forced our hand with this one." - TJ Ward
Then admitting that he has had a difficult time playing within the guidelines to begin with, demonstrating a selfish ambivalence toward the play as a whole:
"I've been fined three times, and I don't like playing for free. If you go ask anybody in this league would they like to play for free? No. Repeat offenders, they're starting to suspend people for the year. I can't risk that. I won't risk that. And, I've got to play within the rules, point blank." - Ward
Right, no one likes working for free, particularly athletes and beat writers, but there are two things that these duped scribes fail to understand - first, the rules didn't target Gronkowski's knee, Ward did. And secondly, there was approximately four and a half feet of Gronk between his helmet and his knee that Ward could have targeted, but he went after the knee.
Cameras showed Ward huddling with Gronkowski just before the meat cart took him away, and they also showed coach Bill Belichick - and he wasn't buying the gesture.
If looks could kill, Belichick's eye-daggers would have been in every one of Ward's major organs, in alphabetical order.
"I just wanted him to know, whether he accepted it or not, it wasn't an intentional hit to injure him, but we have to play this game the way that they force us to, and unfortunately it resulted in an injury for him. I honestly prayed for him 'cause it looked bad the way they were over there." - again, Ward
Well, of course it looked bad. You took out his knee, and it was completely unnecessary.
No doubt that Ward will be dining on the hit for the rest of his football career, gaining status as an enforcer in the league - without a doubt causing the receivers of future opponents to account for his presence over the middle and up the seam, which is a decided advantage to a secondary.
He'll probably never have to buy dinner at restaurants ever again, and drinks will always be on the house. He's T. J. Ward, the modern day David who slew Goliath - by taking out his knee. If Ward was looking for a status edification, he sure picked a punk way of doing it.
If he really wanted to impress people, taking Gronkowski down with a trunk shot would have earned instant respect, but all taking him out by the knees did was end a guy's season - and there's no respect in that.
And hiding behind the shield? That's just as pathetic as it gets.