Houston Matters

Sports leagues wrestle with doling out consistent punishment

Why some are suspended, and some aren’t, for seemingly similar scenarios. 

Dillon Brooks yells after being ejected from a game in 2021.
Brandon Dill/AP
Dillon Brooks yells after being ejected from a game in 2021.

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Doling out penalties and suspensions is always a tricky prospect in professional sports. Rules are subject to interpretation. Officials have to make judgement calls about whether an infraction was intentional or not.

A number of examples occurred in the NBA playoffs and in Major League Baseball in recent days. Over the weekend, Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks was ejected from the game for hitting Lakers star LeBron James in the groin. The referee apparently concluded it was deliberate, but the league concluded no additional punishment was called for.

Former Rockets star James Harden was recently ejected for a similar, if less clear shot. But when Joel Embiid, from the floor, delivered a kick to a player's groin he was NOT ejected from a game. And then there's Draymond Green, who was suspended last week for stepping on Domantas Sabonis' chest after the two got tangled.

In our weekly sports chat, Jeff Balke tells us that, while on the surface, these appear to be inconsistent applications of punishment, on a case-by-case basis, they do make sense.

We also discuss how in Major League Baseball last week Mets pitcher Max Scherzer was suspended for 10 games (in essence, he'll miss one start in the rotation) after umpires ejected him because his hands were too sticky. This is something baseball has been trying to crack down on the last couple of years, with mixed success. Officials say they warned him to wash his hands and whatever efforts he made to do so apparently resulted in even stickier hands than he had before. He expressed outrage over the punishment but ultimately concluded not to appeal it.