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Column: Polamalu fine for phone call out of bounds

- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2011

Roger Goodell had some work to do before jetting off across the pond to try and convince the British that they really do need more American football.

There was a letter to write to Congress on plans for HGH testing, a suspension to hand down to Bengals running back Cedric Benson. And, of course, there were the usual weekly fines to lighten the pockets of players who just can't seem to abide by league rules.

Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk got hit for $10,000 for making an obscene gesture during a win over St. Louis that was caught by television cameras. Teammates Clay Matthews and Tramon Williams received notice they would have to pay $5,000 each for wearing yellow shoes with their throwback uniforms in the same game.

Michael Vick's one-man campaign against violence in the NFL was rewarded when Goodell fined Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo $15,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Eagles quarterback.

And Troy Polamalu was fined $10,000 for making a phone call.

OK, not just any phone call. The Steelers star was on the sidelines late in the game against Jacksonville when he decided to ring his wife for a brief chat that was also caught by those ubiquitous TV cameras.

That's a no-no in the NFL, where cell phones are prohibited in the bench area before and during games. Probably a good thing because you never know when a player might decide to use speed dial to order a pizza or call his agent.

Polamalu, though, wasn't hungry. And he wasn't trying to get a new endorsement deal.

He was doing what millions of men do every day. Calling his wife from work to let her know everything was OK.

"He wasn't checking on his bank account," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

If Polamalu wasn't thinking clearly when he borrowed a phone from a team doctor to make the call, he's hardly to blame. He had just been forced out of the game after experiencing concussion-like symptoms after stopping Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew on a critical third down to help preserve a 17-13 Pittsburgh win.

His wife presumably was watching when it happened. She surely knows better than anyone that her husband has a history of concussions in his nine years in the league.

Polamalu wanted to ease her worries. And it ended up costing him $10,000.

Polamalu probably considers it money well spent. And, between his NFL salary and his shampoo commercials, money is one thing Polamalu has plenty of.

Goodell's decision to fine Polamalu came as a surprise, at least to his coach. It shouldn't have, considering Goodell's history with the team, which included a four-game suspension for Ben Roethlisberger and $100,000 in fines for hits by James Harrison last year. Indeed, a lot of Steeler fans _ and a lot of Steelers themselves _ believe the commissioner has it out for their team.

Laying down the law is one thing, though. Enforcing it in such an arbitrary manner is another.

This wasn't Joe Horn pulling out a phone after scoring a touchdown for New Orleans in 2003 and calling from the end zone to tell his wife and kids about it. That act _ part of a string of over-the-top touchdown celebrations that the NFL promptly cracked down on _ cost Horn $30,000 and may have been the most expensive phone call ever.

This was simply a player wanting his family not to worry.

Sure, Polamalu should have gone somewhere else to make the call. He wasn't returning to the game anyway, so the locker room would have been the more appropriate place to let his loved ones know he was fine.

But in a league that has been patting itself on the back recently for taking steps to prevent concussions, the NFL sent out the wrong message by disciplining a player who had just had his bell rung. It was a rare misstep for the NFL, which has been on a public relations roll ever since proving it can be flexible in reaching a 10-year labor agreement with players.

Polamalu will play Sunday against Arizona after passing a series of concussion tests. It's a safe bet he stays off the phone, no matter how hard he's hit.

Because in the NFL, as Polamalu found out, talk isn't cheap.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at htttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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