In today’s NFL, the line between aggressive play and unsportsmanlike conduct can often blur. Detroit Lions’ safety Kerby Joseph has faced an unwarranted storm of controversy after the team’s playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Despite allegations of being a dirty player, evidence and support from his team suggest otherwise. Kerby Joseph, a second-year safety, remains steadfast in his approach to the game but has faced backlash following a hit on Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, resulting in a torn ACL and MCL.
“I’m cool,” Joseph told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m used to being the villain.”
The incident, which occurred during Detroit’s narrow 24-23 wild-card win, drew heated comments from Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who labeled Joseph “dirty as f-k.”. However, this reaction, caught on the Rams’ Mic’d Up Series, might be more of a heat-of-the-moment outburst than an objective assessment.
Stafford’s comment, “That’s a good hit, (but) you’re dirty as f-k though, and you know it,” contradicts itself, acknowledging the legitimacy of the hit. A closer examination reveals a player committed to the game, playing within its rules, and undeserving of the “dirty player” label.
The Defense Stands Tall
Lions head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn have staunchly defended Joseph. Campbell emphasized, “That’s how we play football here,” advocating for a clean but aggressive style. “He’s going for the thigh board and staying away from the head. That’s how we play defense here. It’s not dirty. We hit,” he added emphatically.
Glenn echoed this sentiment, focusing on the team’s disregard for external opinions and commitment to their style of play:
I understand exactly what the NFL is doing when it comes to trying to – a player’s safety, and I totally agree with it. And the thing that he did against the Minnesota Vikings, he hit a guy high, and he got fined for it. So then he hits a guy low, and people are saying he’s a dirty player. Kerby plays football, and we’re going to continue to play football. And we don’t care what anybody else has to say. Listen, no one wants anybody to get hurt in this League. No one wants that….and it kind of bothers me that you hear that from people across the League.
Setting the Record Straight
Further disproving the dirty player narrative, Joseph wasn’t penalized or fined for his hit on Higbee or the earlier incident involving Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson. However, it’s worth noting that he did receive a penalty for a high hit on Justin Jefferson in a previous game. This isolated incident, however, does not define his career, which boasts 163 tackles and eight interceptions.
Joseph’s intentions have been clear, especially in his response after the game. His heartfelt message on social media, “I’m praying for bro and his family I don’t have no intention to hurt no body and or harm their career,” reflects a player aware of the game’s risks but dedicated to playing within its rules. The few times I’ve interacted with him, he left the impression of a player far removed from any malicious intent on the field.
The decision by the Rams to include Stafford’s comment in their Mic’d Up series raises questions about their intentions. Was it a calculated move to tarnish Joseph’s reputation? Such a portrayal in a highly publicized video can lead to significant, perhaps undeserved, repercussions for a player’s career.
Forward Down the Field
The current NFL rules regarding defensive play are stringent, often putting players in challenging positions to make split-second decisions. In Joseph’s case, his actions, while aggressive, have not crossed the line into unsportsmanlike conduct. The controversy surrounding him appears to be more a product of the game’s physical nature than an indictment of his character or style.
The Lions, set to host the Buccaneers in a highly anticipated divisional round, are rallying behind Kerby Joseph. The team and its supporters understand the thin line between aggressive play and unsportsmanlike conduct, standing united in their defense of a player who epitomizes the spirit of Detroit football. As Ford Field prepares for another record-setting crowd, the focus shifts to the game, where Joseph’s performance will speak louder than any controversy.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Lon Horwedel – USA TODAY Sports