Browns OT could have eye damage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 1999

The Associated Press

Berea – As Orlando Brown cupped his injured right eye, the Browns offensive tackle was overwhelmed by thoughts of his father’s blindness.

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

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Berea – As Orlando Brown cupped his injured right eye, the Browns offensive tackle was overwhelmed by thoughts of his father’s blindness.

Brown remained hospitalized today with blurred vision while the reason he shoved a referee to the ground became much clearer.

On Monday, it was revealed that Brown might have permanent damage in the eye that was accidentally hit by referee Jeff Triplette’s weighted penalty flag during Sunday’s game between Cleveland and Jacksonville.

Brown, who pushed Triplette down after being struck by the flag, was being treated for impaired vision at the Cleveland Clinic.

Brown said his family’s medical history is what drove him to storm onto the field and confront Triplette. Brown’s father, Claude, lost his sight to glaucoma in 1993.

”His family history has him very concerned,” said Browns coach Chris Palmer, who spent an hour visiting with Brown at the hospital. ”He sees his dad not being able to see his children and things like that.”

Triplette’s 3-ounce flag – weighted with BBs – struck Brown directly in his right eye.

In a statement released by the Browns, Brown apologized to Triplette, his teammates and Cleveland fans.

”My actions yesterday were based upon an incredible amount of pain which affected my judgment,” Brown said. ”This situation was very scary due to my father’s blindness and having to deal with that for many years.

”My injury and those facts still do not justify pushing an official. I regret what happened a great deal. Nothing like this will ever happen again.”

News that Brown’s injury was serious changed the focus of the story from condemnation of the player’s actions to concern for his future.

The NFL is considering disciplinary action, which could include a fine and suspension. The minimum fine for physical contact with an official is $10,000.

Brown was expected to remain under a doctor’s care for at least two more days.

”It’s not good,” said Palmer. ”He is concerned about losing his eyesight.”

Palmer said doctors were concerned about pressure building around the eye, which was swollen shut and covered by a metal patch. Doctors told Palmer that because Brown is predisposed to eye problems, any injury could make him more susceptible to glaucoma and other long-term damage.

Because Brown already had poor vision, he couldn’t see the flag right away as it was coming toward him, Palmer said.

After he was hit, the 6-7, 350-pound Brown dropped to one knee, and Triplette rushed to his side to pull the marker from inside the player’s helmet.

Brown then staggered toward the Cleveland sideline, but returned to confront Triplette, an energy company treasurer. Brown knocked the 6-foot-5, 200-pound ref to the ground with a two-handed shove to the chest.

Four NFL players have been disciplined for such contact: Don Burroughs of Philadelphia in 1963, Monty Stickles of New Orleans in 1968, Michael Jackson of Seattle in 1982 and Steve Wisniewski of Oakland in 1996.

Browns president Carmen Policy, who appeared at a news conference with Palmer, said the league should not treat Brown any differently because of the severity of the injury.

”The pushing of an official should never be ignored,” Policy said. ”With that premise in mind, I don’t think what happened can simply be written off.”

Palmer said when he saw Brown walking back onto the field he thought he was simply rejoining the huddle. He thinks Brown became enraged when he crossed paths with Triplette.

”I think if he was in a fit of rage it would have been a sprint onto the field like you see in baseball,” said Palmer, who along with several Browns players tried to calm Brown down on a chaotic sideline. ”God knows if it was a fit of rage I wouldn’t be here today.”

Policy said he hopes the NFL will change the way officials are instructed to throw their penalty flags. Officials are taught to throw the markers upward or at the spot of the infraction.

Palmer said Sunday’s incident had not affect Brown’s future in Cleveland.

”He’s a Cleveland Brown,” Palmer said. ”At this time, I have not changed my view of Orlando Brown. I do not have problems handling the player.”

Browns linebacker Jamir Miller said he could understand why Brown lost his composure.

”The man was upset that he was taken out of the game by a flag, of all things,” Miller said. ”You have 300-pound guys running around at you all day and you get hit in the eye with a flag? It’s a frustrating thing.”

Browns safety Corey Fuller berated a reporter for asking if any of the Cleveland players were afraid of Brown, fined $5,000 earlier this season for a late hit.

”I’m not defending him and I’m not defending the ref,” he said. ”It’s just a situation where it seems like the athlete is always totally wrong. He’s not out there robbing, killing, stealing. The man blew up. The situation got out of control.”