Aaron Donald swings helmets at opponents in wild brawl at practice

by Jacob Fuller

Rob Maaddi, FISM News


Aaron Donald repeatedly swung two helmets at opposing players during a wild brawl at a joint practice between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday.

Donald, the 2021 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, was thrown to the ground at the end of the free-for-all featuring over-the-top punches from players on the two teams that met in the Super Bowl six months ago.

Warning: the following video contains violence and strong language.

Donald isn’t facing any discipline from the NFL because teams are responsible for punishing players for any infractions at practice.

“Emotions run high. We’ve been working together for two days now, and that’s just some real competitive guys getting into it,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “I think everybody is healthy. We’ll move on. I won’t get into what happened. It’s over. We got two good days of work in.”

Rams coach Sean McVay also downplayed the incident after practice ended a few plays early because of the fighting.

“I don’t know exactly what instigated it,” McVay said. “I think in some instances, teams defending each other. Fortunately, my understanding is nobody got hurt and we’ll move on from it. Not going to make a bigger deal than what it is, not going to point fingers on who did what. But I think just like Zac would say, I expect our guys to defend their teammates, vice versa. There are certain things you just don’t know exactly what occurred, but I am glad that my understanding is nobody got injured and that’s the most important thing. We’ll move on. We got enough stuff done to be able to evaluate it.”

McVay was, however, visibly upset coming out of the scrum.

I don’t know what I was, I just see guys swinging and some guys have helmets on, some don’t. There’s a scrum, you just never know what can occur and my biggest concern is just unnecessary injuries for people that we’re counting on, whether it’s for our team or the other team. But that’s to me where I care about these guys and especially when you start throwing punches with gear on. … I’ve been enough of a meathead in my past that I’ve done some stupid stuff, too. So I know how volatile and how fragile it is, where you hit it the wrong way and then you break your hand and it could affect a guy’s chance to be OK. Or God forbid somebody gets hit in the head with the helmet off. So that was really just. … I don’t know what emotions I was feeling right there, I just was glad when everything got broken up and my understanding was everybody’s OK.

The Bengals host the Rams in their final preseason game Saturday night. The Rams beat Cincinnati 23-20 in the Super Bowl played in their home stadium in Los Angeles on Feb. 13.

Like many NFL teams have done throughout the preseason ahead of exhibition games, the Rams and Bengals held two days of joint practices to allow starters to get important repetitions.

Fights have broken out often at these practices across the league, according to reports, but there hasn’t been anything quite like this skirmish. Donald almost certainly would’ve faced severe punishment if this action occurred in a game.

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was suspended six games for using his helmet to hit Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head during a regular-season game in 2019.

Some commentators, including Cleveland sports reporter Daryl Ruiter, pointed to hypocrisy in the coverage of the two similar incidents.

Earlier in the joint practice Thursday, Bengals offensive lineman La’el Collins was involved in a scuffle with linebacker Leonard Floyd, ripping off the defender’s helmet and tossing it. Collins again was involved in another fight before the last one emptied the sidelines and ended the practice session.