When news broke on Tuesday morning that Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was arrested for allegedly assaulting his own mother on Monday, he became the 22nd NFL player to be arrested since Super Bowl XLVI, according to Pro Football Talk’s Police Blotter. That’s an average of about four arrests per month for the past five months, which does not reflect well on the league, especially its commissioner Roger Goodell.
Eight of the 22 arrests this offseason have been DUI-related. Marijuana-related arrests follow closely behind with four incidents since early February. The remaining 10 arrests range from various assault charges to Eagles running back Dion Lewis’ arrest for “felony false reporting of a fire and misdemeanor reckless endangerment.”
According to a database of every arrest/citation involving an NFL player since the year 2000 compiled by San Diego Union-Tribune’s Brent Schrotenboer, players have actually been better behaved than they were last offseason. At this time last year, there had been 25 arrests (compared to this year’s 22) since the February 6 Super Bowl matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
While it’s easy to point the finger at Goodell, it would not be irrational to attribute last year’s influx of arrests to the lockout, which required the agreement of dozens of men to be lifted, not just a ruling from the commissioner.
While owners and NFLPA representatives quarreled for 18 weeks over a new collective bargaining agreement, players were denied access to team facilities and coaches were denied contact with their players. Without their respective franchise’s supervision, it can be argued that many young players made poor decisions last year that they would not have made had they received the proper guidance. But at this point, that’s all speculation.
That being said, one would expect a significant decrease in arrests in the first normal offseason since the lockout. So far, that has not been the case. Faced with over 20 arrests in a five-month span, Goodell needs to implement a heavier disciplinary policy for players who get in trouble off the field.
Sure, NFL players have to deal with the humiliation of being in the media’s spotlight for a few days or weeks following a minor arrest, but usually that attention dwindles quickly and the reparations are taken care of relatively quietly. I’m all for allowing our nation’s legal system to carry out the just ramifications for the accused, but I also believe that something needs to be done to discourage this type of behavior in the first place.
Goodell has been able to make necessary changes during his tenure as NFL Commissioner, especially when it came to protecting player safety. With an ever-expanding understanding of concussions and the long-term effects they can have on the brain, the league, under Goodell, has cracked down on helmet-to-helmet contact and hits on defenseless receivers with strict penalties and fines.
But in the case of head-to-head hits, Goodell had the advantage of making an example of players like Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was notorious for questionable “head-hunting.” Goodell handed down escalating fines to the Steelers defensive enforcer until they reached a total of $125,000 and a one-game suspension. Players across the league finally got the picture.
Obviously you cannot issue a 15-yard personal foul for a DUI or possession of marijuana, but Goodell is also faced with the inconvenience of not having a spearhead to make an example of, since repeat offenders are rare. This puts Goodell in the precarious position of punishing first-time offenders.
Some may argue that Goodell has bigger fish to fry with the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal dominating most of his attention this offseason. While bounties have no place in the NFL, controlling player behavior off the field should be just as important to the commissioner.
While the need for Goodell to make changes in an attempt to improve offseason behavior is strong, ultimately the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the accused players.
Players need to be reminded that they represent the National Football League both on and off the field. Hundreds of thousands of impressionable kids across America religiously follow the league’s biggest stars, and to let them down by making a stupid mistake and getting arrested is certainly something to be ashamed of.
Too often these players are viewed as super-human, or above the law. By implementing fines or suspensions for poor offseason behavior, we will see a decrease in arrests and, in turn, a better reputation for the NFL and its players.