PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers safety Damontae Kazee is back from his three-game suspension levied by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for a hit to the head of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on Dec. 16.
Is Kazee a changed man after his historic ban? Not necessarily, but probably not for the reason you might think.
Kazee went to New York in person to have his appeal heard and to “give him a face.” He was only partially successful, getting it reduced to just a three-game ban instead of the whole season, which is why Kazee is back instead of watching from home. What he found out in New York was that the suspension was much more about Kazee’s history than it was the hit against Pittman.
“I don’t think I should have been suspended, but we had an understanding up there,” Kazee said “I know why I got suspended. It wasn’t for the penalties this year, it was from my NFL career.”
Kazee was ejected and fined but not suspended for hit on Cam Newton when he was with the Atlanta Falcons in 2018. A 2021 DWI arrest caused him to have to serve a three-game suspension with the Steelers in 2022. Kazee had also been fined five times this season before the suspension.
“When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player, it is appropriate to impose substantially greater penalties,” NFL vice president of football operations John Runyan said in the press release announcing Kazee’s suspension.
Kazee was aware of his history coming, and he said he had already taken some steps to try to limit the potential for bad hits. It was just a situation he wasn’t expecting and wasn’t used to in Indianapolis.
“This year, I changed my ways,” Kazee said. “Slow down. I made good tackles this year. Staying square and everything else. It was just the position I was in. (Gardner Minshew) threw the ball, (Pittman) dove for it. As a defender, I’m trying to knock the ball out.”
It would be easy for a defender to rail against the changes made to the NFL that have made a hit that would’ve gotten fellow Steelers safety Ryan Clark on SportsCenter 15 years ago into a banishable offense. But he said it’s up to defensive players to make the adjustments to keep the game safe.
“They understand me and I understood them,” Kazee said. “They’re trying to protect me at the end of the day. Helmet to helmet with another player is about me protecting myself. … We’ve got to learn from it. It’s a new NFL. Gotta do it.”
“Of course. This is my job. You have to be ready at any moment.”