BEREA, Ohio -- The NFL pushed back at Orlando Brown on Wednesday, suspending the Cleveland tackle for shoving a referee who accidentally hit him in the eye with a weighted penalty flag.
The indefinite suspension was announced hours after Brown learned he must stay in the hospital because of new bleeding in his right eye. He was to have been released Wednesday before this setback.
Brown also faces a possible fine and could be suspended for part of the 2000 season. He is the first player in league history to be suspended for more than one game for contact with an official.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will meet with the 6-foot-7, 350-pound tackle in New York after the Pro Bowl in February. Additional penalties will be discussed at that hearing.
"We continue to hope Orlando Brown makes a full recovery from his injury," Tagliabue said. "However, as everyone has acknowledged, the injury to the player was completely inadvertent and did not justify his action against the referee.
"It was an unfortunate accident but we cannot condone under any circumstances physical contact against our game officials."
Brown was hit by a flag weighted with BBs -- thrown by referee Jeff Triplette -- during Sunday's game with Jacksonville. Brown stormed back on the field and knocked down Triplette with a two-handed shove to the chest.
Brown blamed his violent actions on the fact that his father, Claude, lost his sight to glaucoma in 1993. Brown has been in the hospital since Sunday night, with impaired vision and bleeding in a chamber of his right eye.
The injury would have kept Brown out of Cleveland's season finale against Indianapolis on Sunday. The Browns have a bye week on the last weekend of the season.
Still, that weekend counts toward the suspension and Brown will not get a paycheck, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. Brown signed a six-year, $27 million contract with Cleveland in February. Based on his 1999 salary, Brown will lose $49,411.
Brown's agent, Tom Condon, did not say if his client will appeal.
"I would prefer we wait until after the hearing before making a comment," said Condon, who on Tuesday hinted about a possible lawsuit against the league if Browns' injury was career threatening.
Browns coach Chris Palmer also refused to comment after being handed a copy of the NFL's ruling as he left the practice field.
Brown's penalty is already more severe than the other four in which a player has shoved an official. Those penalties ranged from one-game suspensions to a $20,000 fine.
The players disciplined for such contact were: 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.
Palmer said he learned of Brown's new eye bleeding from team medical personnel. The team has declined to release medical news on Brown since Monday.
Condon said he spoke with Brown by phone Wednesday and he was still experiencing "severe discomfort."
"He is very concerned," said Condon, who did not know when Brown might be released. Coincidentally, Condon also represents the league's referees, serving as their labor negotiator since 1994.
Condon said Brown was being treated by Browns team physician, Dr. John Bergfeld, along with three eye doctors.
On Monday, doctors told Brown he might have permanent vision damage. Also, his family history of vision problems means any eye injury could lead to long-term complications.
Brown made his first public statement since the game on Tuesday during a news conference across the hall from his hospital room.
Dressed in street clothes and wearing a metal patch over his eye, Brown apologized. He had planned to read a handwritten statement, but said he couldn't see it and handed it to his wife.
Palmer said he didn't know if stress caused by the commotion of the news conference caused the new bleeding.
As a result of Brown's injury, the league has said it will review the way officials toss flags. The flags are weighted so they can fall immediately at the spot of a foul. Sometimes they are thrown forward rather than up.
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