Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What Can Be Done About Off Field Conduct?

by: Michael Steffes

Yesterday's discussion was very lively, and exciting considering we are in the dead zone of pro football. The quiet before the storm if you will. Great work Strategerie!

I thought that, with little going on, I would pose another topic for discussion today. What can be done about NFL Player Conduct during the offseason? It is beginning to border on the absurd. It has been more than a year since the new sheriff(Rodger Goodell) came in and laid down the law(Personal conduct policy). Guess what? It didn't work. That much is clear.

Last year, between the Superbowl and July there were 33 incidents of criminal behavior amongst NFL players. This year, during the same period, I count 38. Also, during the draft this year, the Bengals(of all teams) took a player with an upcoming court case. The Lions first rounder had a pending incident and their second rounder had been arrested days earlier. There were also several other teams that took players with incidents yet to be settled. All this proves is that Rodger Goodell's policy doesn't have enough teeth.

It is amazing that we could sit here and say that. Pacman has been suspended for more than a year. Chris Henry's NFL career hangs in the balance. In fact, the only player Goodell make an example of who seems may have really reformed is Tank Johnson. Good for him. However, any good will that brings is more than offset by the fact that not only more players, but model NFL citizens like Lofa Tatupu and Javon Kearse are getting pinched too. What is going on? After the jump you can...

For one, I think we can safely make the conclusion that suspension and loss of money are not significant deterrents for bad conduct. I don't really understand why, but this is true in many areas of life. There are numerous studies that conclude that the death penalty is not a deterrents for would be murders, and law enforcement puts record numbers of non-violent drug offenders in jail every year because the legal system is not a deterrent for people who use these substances for whatever reason. Clearly, fines and suspensions, both punitive measures, do not alter NFL players thinking or behavior. We need a new approach.

I want to mention here that I support what Rodger Goodell is trying to do. I find the continuing rash of arrests saddening. If this game wants to continue with its popularity, it needs to get this solved. The NBA has suffered huge image issues due to arrests. It simply furthers divides players and fans, because fans see this as kids making millions not appreciating the gift they have been given. Also, no community wants to have role models(like it or not) behaving poorly around town.

Here is what I propose. Take the players out of the equation. Take for example Brandon Marshall, an exciting young player who looks as if he will miss time due to a suspension this year. The fans, the networks, even the casual fans who are associated via fantasy football; the product they are consuming loses a little luster while Marshall sits at home. The same could be said if Marshaun Lynch sits. So rather than suspend the players, knowing full well it won't deter the next player from making a similar decision, go after the organizations. They have to be more proactive. They are the supervisors if the NFL is the employers. They should take steps the moment they suspect problems are a possibility. Take away draft picks, impose large organizational fines, and do what ever else encourages teams to make this better.

Many might say that this only further encourages teams to sweep incidents under the rug, but I disagree. I think that teams would be foolish to think they can make incidents go away in todays media climate. Also, maybe we could end this whole concept of players cutting deals so that they don't actually have to admit guilt or show a conviction so they can possibly escape this toothless conduct policy. Make those who are beyond any help the team can give, face the legal system like an average joe. It would restore the fans faith in how incidents are handled.

Also, I wish I could say that allowing players more time with their teams during the offseason would help, but numerous incidents this year took place while players were with their teams. It my mind an attitude change is needed, not a band-aid. Some how, teams need to reach these young kids, which is admittedly difficult, and instill what a gift they have been given. Actually, it is not a gift as much as a responsibility.

If anything, I believe that teams have taught NFL players how to act. Teams allow the same behavior to go unnoticed with starters, that results in the release of a special teamer. They are saying that talent out weights conduct. As long as teams like the Bucs and Cowboys take on every reclamation project available, players will continue to dismiss the idea that criminal behavior can end your career. Teams need to understand their role in the players behavior better.

What ever is done, the first step is admitting that the current policy has been given its chance and is clearly not working. What would you do to solve these problems?