PITTSBURGH — The NFL has suspended Pittsburgh Steelers safety Damontae Kazee for the remainder of the 2023 season, including any and all playoff games, the league announced on Monday.
The suspension comes on the heels of Kazee being ejected for a hit to the helmet of a defenseless receiver in Saturday’s 30-13 Steelers loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Kazee hit wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. in the head with his shoulder as Pittman was diving over the middle of the field in an attempt to catch a pass from Gardner Minshew.
Pittman was able to walk off the field under his own power, but he was removed from the game and remains in the NFL concussion protocol.
Kazee was specifically charged with violating NFL rule 12 which prohibits forcible contact to a player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemark, forearm or shoulder, even if that is not the initial point of contact.
Furthermore the rule states that a “player who initiates contact against a defenseless opponent is responsible for avoiding an illegal act. A standard of strict liability applies for any contact against an opponent, even if his body position is in motion, and irrespective of any acts by him, such as ducking his head or curling up his body in anticipation of contact.”
Kazee has been fined five times this season for violating the NFL’s health and safety protocols and that history played a significant role in the steep suspension handed down by the league.
“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 a press release.
Kazee was fined $11,806 for unsportsmanlike conduct in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, $11,806 for impermissible use of the helmet in Week 7 against the Los Angeles Rams, $11,806 for impermissible use of the helmet and another $11,806 for a hit on a defenseless player in Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and $11,806 for unnecessary roughness against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12.
Kazee will appeal the suspension. His agent Ron Butler told CBS Sports that defensive players feel an undue part of the burden for protecting player safety.
“I want to bring light to the situation of defensive players who are in a position feeling like they have to make plays to keep their job, but also not having any intent to injure,” Butler said. “This is the most I’ve dealt with fines since I’ve been an agent. I understand they’re trying to clean up the game, but at this point it’s a bit extreme.”
His appeal will be held the day following the official notification of an appeal. It will be heard by arbiters Derrick Brooks and James Thrash, former players who have been jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA.
If the three-game regular season suspension is upheld, it will cost $208,333 in salary.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin defended Kazee’s character on Monday, saying that he is not a dirty player, but called the hit that injured Pittman “unfortunate.”
“Usually, I talk about lowering the target,” he said. “The target was low and both guys were going. It was just unfortunate. I know he is not a dirty player. He doesn’t aspire to do some of the things that came to light under those circumstances. Sometimes, it’s just professional football today and how difficult it is to operate. But the National Football League is very clear. They put 100% of the onus on the defender in those circumstances. It’s unfortunate, but we understand it.”
Trenton Thompson replaced Kazee after his ejection on Saturday and will be expected to do so going forward, though Thompson suffered a stinger injury in the game and his participation this week is questionable. Co-starting strong safety Keanu Neal remains out with a rib injury.