The Hypocrisy That Is Roger Goodell and the NFL Player Conduct Policy

Tim SteelersFanCorrespondent IJune 21, 2010

NEW YORK - APRIL 22:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as he stands on stage during the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 22, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Since being appointed NFL Commissioner on August 8, 2006, Roger Goodell has developed a reputation as a strict disciplinarian with regards to player behavior, a reputation fueled by the media that appears undeserved.

Goodell made it clear very early on that one of his major initiatives would be to address NFL off-the-field issues head on.  Keeping his word, it took Goodell a mere seven months in office to introduce an all new Conduct Policy.

The Conduct Policy is separate from the league's substance abuse policy, where players are investigated for drug and alcohol abuse and performance enhancing drug use.  The PCP specifically targets players' personal lives, how they conduct themselves, and how they represent the NFL image in the public.  All players suspended under the PCP must apply for reinstatement.

It is important to note that the PCP is a Policy.  A Policy, by definition is a set of principles and/or rules that drive decision making to achieve desired outcomes.  As a framework only, Policies depend upon protocols or procedures to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Roger Goodell and the NFL have been very public in outlining the details of the Player Conduct Policy.  What is missing from the PCP is a set of identified protocols and procedures by which the Policy is enforced.

The enforcement of the PCP has been achieved on a "case by case" basis, with each case appearing to have been evaluated in a vacuum without consideration of precedence.  Secondarily, the basic rights and procedures that exist within our own US legal system are by and large noticeably absent from PCP process.  Accusations and charges are enough to trigger penalty.  Convictions are irrelevant.  Finally, while covered, team officials and coaches to date have been exempt from the policy.

According to the Policy, all people associated with the NFL are covered under the Policy:  "The following persons ("Covered Persons") shall be considered subject to this Policy: (i) all players under contract; (ii) all full-time employees of the National Football League, its Member Clubs and related entities; (iii) all rookie players once they are selected in the NFL college draft; and (iv) all undrafted rookie players, unsigned veterans and other prospective employees once they commence negotiations with a Club concerning employment."  This is blanket coverage - all players, NFL employees, and even "prospective" employees who are in the process of negotiating terms of employment with the NFL.

But is it applied to all NFL players in reality? 

The Policy Isn't Universally Applied

Consider the following points:

  • Since August 8, 2006, there have been 228 Arrests/Citations for NFL players. 16 players have been suspended under the PCP - 7%
  • 49 players have suffered two or more arrests during this time frame
  • Only 33% of repeat offenders suffered PCP punishment

Note that the statistics above do not include accusations, nor does it include the cross-pollinated population of players who've violated the Substance Abuse Policy and have been arrested (aka, Shawne Merriman).  These numbers could be much higher.

Clearly, if Roger Goodell and the NFL were enforcing the PCP universally, we'd have seen far more NFL players face suspension under the PCP.  Remember, the Policy can apply to either first time or repeat offenders.  "Any Covered Person convicted of or admitting to a criminal violation (including a plea to a lesser included offense; a plea of nolo contendere or no contest; or the acceptance of a diversionary program, deferred adjudication, disposition of supervision, or similar arrangement) will be subject to discipline as determined by the Commissioner. Such discipline may include a fine, suspension without pay and/or banishment from the League. Any Covered Person convicted of or admitting to a second criminal violation will be suspended without pay or banished for a period of time to be determined by the Commissioner." 

Because the Policy is missing any set of identified,reasonable procedures to enforce its application, it is not applied based upon practice, but instead it is based upon need or reaction.  Thus the large majority of violators go unpunished because rules don't exist mandating the application of the PCP to their cases. 

The Untouchables - the Players

Despite the Policy's claim that all 2nd time offenders "will" be punished under the Policy, 67% of repeat offenders have never faced a PCP penalty of any form.  The list includes: 

  • Santonio Holmes (4 incidents) - has been arrested for Domestic Abuse (2 counts), Disorderly Conduct, Charged with Marijuana Possession, and most recently accused of Assault on a woman in a nightclub
  • Randy Starks (2 incidents) - Arrested and charged with Domestic Assault; Arrested and Charged with Battery on a Police officer
  • Steve McNair (2 incidents) - Arrested for DUI; Arrested for an illegal weapons charge
  • Vincent Jackson (3 incidents) - Arrested for DUI twice; Arrested for driving on a suspended license/expired registration
  • Willie Andrews (3 incidents) - misdemeanor gun charge; marijuana possession with intent to distribute; assault with a deadly weapon
  • Steve Foley (4 incidents) - 2 counts of DUI, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer; domestic violence; disturbing the peace
  • Shaun Phillips (2 incidents) - misdemeanor battery on a security guard; arrested for resisting/obstructing a police officer
  • Dwight Smith (4 incidents) - arrested indecent conduct; charged with brandishing a handgun; misdemeanor marijuana position; arrested for pulling a "fake" gun on fans
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (3 incidents) - arrested speeding and carrying a loaded weapon; arrested reckless driving; arrested, driving without a license and 3 guns in his vehicle
  • Jared Allen (2 incidents) - arrested twice in the same year for DUI
  • Other players with repeat offenses were not or have not been suspended:  A.J. Nicholson, Admad Carroll, Albert Haynesworth, B.J. Sams, Bobby McCray, Cato June, Cedric Benson, Cedric Grffin, Claude Terrell, Darrell Reid, David Boston, Dominic Rhodes, Dominque Byrd, Donte Whitner, Jeff Reed, Jeramy Stevens, Jeremy Bridges, Joey Porter, Jonathan Babineaux, Kenny Wright, Kalif Barnes, Koren Robinson, Leroy Hill, Marcus Coleman, Matt Jones, Najeh Davenport, Plaxico Burress, Sam Brandon, and Terrence Kiel

The Untouchables - The Coaches and GMs

Just as bizarre as the scant few players who've received punishment under the PCP is that no coaches, GMs, or other team officials have been targeted under the policy.  Keep in mind that the PCP explicitly lists Coaches, GMs and team personnel as personnel coverd by the PCP.  There have been opportunities to enforce the Policy at this level. 

The most notable - Oakland Raider head coach Tom Cable, a repeat offender himself. 

In August 2009 assistant coach Randy Hanson claims that Tom Cable broke his jaw in an altercation at the team's facilities - during a coaches meeting of all things.  "A two-month investigation into the incident by the Napa Police Department turned up substantial evidence of assault and bodily injury sustained by Hanson (including medical records proving serious injury), plus corroborating witness statements from other coaches present during the altercation."  

In addition, several women have since come forward claiming Cable's been historically abusive to them - Sandy Cable (former wife), Marie Lutz, and Glenda Cable (2nd wife of 17 years) all have stepped forward and claimed cases of physical and verbal abuse by Cable ranging from 1986 through 2008.  Please note evidence of Cable's abuse towards Glenda comes from their divorce documents in which it was stated "in the past he has been physically and verbally abusive to me."

Tom Cable is a repeat offender.  There is a trail of verifiable evidence against him from four identified witnesses.  Yet the NFL chose to turn a blind eye to the situation after doing what appears to be a paltry investigation.

There have been other cases, the most notable of which is the currently outstanding New Orleans Saints Vicodin case involving Sean Payton and other New Orleans Saints staff. This situation could be a very damaging one for the NFL and do more damage to "The Shield" than any individual player could have done.

While the case hasn't been resolved, it has disappeared from the landscape of public media consumption.  New Orleans Saints NFL attorneys chose to invoke an arbitration clause in Santini's (the accuser and former security director) employment contract.  This removed the case from civil court and  the media spotlight, forbidding either side from discussing the case in public. 

The decision to move the case to arbitration blocked the release of video and audio recordings related to the Vicodin theft claims.  These included video showing assistant coaches in the act of stealing the pills and audio discussions between team trainers implicating GM Mickey Loomis on how to forge entries in the drug logs as a cover up.

If you remember, during Spygate the NFL sent officials to Foxboro to destroy tapes and evidence.  The NFL appears to be working just as hard to make this case go away as well. 

The NFL mysteriously at times invests significant amounts of league resources into investigating (on its own) player misconduct.  Yet, in the case of Cable and now the Super Bowl Champion Saints, the NFL appears to be content not to invoke the PCP nor dig for the truth.

The Misapplication of Justice

To date, punishment delivered under the PCP follows no precedent.  Its application is scant, and when it is applied, the penalties given are erratic.  When cases are compared one to another, it is difficult to understand suspensions handed down. Consider the 16 players suspended under the PCP and their associated arrests/citations:

1 Game Suspension - Rocky Bernard (one arrest)

-  Arrest - Assault; punched his ex-girlfriend, mother of one of his children, in the forehead with a closed fist, causing her head to strike a glass divider.

1 Game Suspension - Michael Boley (one arrest)

-  Arrest - Domestic Abuse; wife had bruises on her upper back after accusing her husband of throwing her into a wall and kitchen cabinet during a dispute

1 Game Suspension - Fabian Washington (one arrest)

-  Arrest - Domestic Abuse - physically assaulted his girlfriend (mother of his child)

1 Game Suspension - Brandon Marshall (4 arrests, 10 other offenses)

-  2004 - college - Charged with misdemeanor trespassing, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, assault on a police officer

-  2005 - college - Charged with misdemeanor retail theft

-  2006 - involved in an argument outside a Denver nightclub with patrons; argument is reputed to have led to shooting that took Darrent Williams' life

-  2007 - allegedly fired a gun at his own father outside a bowling alley; father refused to press charges

-  2007 - Atlanta hotel - domestic dispute, struck his fiance with a closed fist; officers noted her bruised face; she refused to press charges

-  2007 - South Florida - fiance filed police charges after a verbal domestic dispute

-  2007 - Arrest; Colorado - domestic violence & false imprisonment

-  2007 - Atlanta - domestic dispute - police find Marshall's fiance with a large cut on her thigh; no charges filed

-  2007 - Atlanta - domestic dispute, Marshall punched fiance's face, then rammed her friend's SUV with his Escalade while trying to flee; no charges filed

-  2007 - Atlanta - domestic dispute, Marshall hit fiance's face and choked her; no charges filed

-  2007 - Arrest; Denver - DUI

-  2008 - San Juan - Marshall hit fiance's face, choked her.  Police report filed, no charges

-  2008 - Arrest; Atlanta - 2 police calls in one night; Marshall was cut, Fiance was cut on the face; Marshall threw fiance's belongings out of the 20th floor condo window

-  2009 - Arrest; Atlanta - arrested after an outdoor fight with his new fiance was witnessed by police

1 Game Suspension - Ricky Manning (one arrest)

- Arrest - Felony charge for assaulting a man outside a Denny's in Los Angeles

1 Game Suspension - Larry Johnson (four offenses)

-  Charged - Simple assault on a woman in a night cub

-  Charged - Domestic abuse assault

-  Charged - Simple Assault on a female nightclub patron

-  Arrest -  disturbing the peace

2 Game Suspension - Fred Evans (two arrests)

- Arrested - Marijuana possession

- Arrested - Battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, trespassing

2 Game Suspension - Michael Vick (two arrests) 

- Arrested - misdemeanor trespassing

- Convicted on violating federal laws regarding illegal dog fighting

3 Game Suspension - Marshawn Lynch (two arrests)

- Arrested - automotive hit and run

- Arrested - felony gun charge; police found a loaded gun in his vehicle in CA

4 Game Suspension - Bryant McKinnie (four offenses)

-  Charged with obstructing a police officer

-  Charged with disorderly conduct

-  Charged with indecent/disorderly conduct on the infamous Vikings "Love Boat"

-  Arrested - aggravated battery, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest

6 Game Suspension - Ben Roethlisberger (no arrests or citations)

-  Faces a civil suit for alleged rape by a Las Vegas woman

-  Accused of sexual assault in Georgia; no charges filed by defendant or the District Attorney

8 Game Suspension - Tank Johnson (four arrests)

- Arrested - illegal gun possession

- Arrested - speeding/DUI

- Arrested - felony gun charge possession

- Arrested - misdemeanor aggravated assault and resisting arrest

8 Game Suspension - Chris Henry (6 offenses)

-  Cited - three traffic charges, driving with a suspended license

-  Arrested - marijuana possession

-  Arrested - concealed weapons charges

-  Arrested - DUI

-  Arrested - providing alcohol to minors

-  Arrested - assault and disorderly conduct

16 Game Suspension - Rob Reynolds (2 offenses)

-  Arrested - domestic violence, assault and criminal damaging

-  Violated league's substance abuse policy

16 Game Suspension - Donte Stallworth (one arrest)

- Arrested - charged with DUI and vehicular manslaughter

22 Game Suspension - Pacman Jones (6 offenses)

-  Arrest - Felony Assault and vandalism

-  Arrest - marijuana possession, obstruction of justice

-  Search Warrant after traffic stop - marijuana

-  Arrest - disorderly conduct and public intoxication

-  Arrest - misdemeanor assault

-  Arrest - Felony coercion (result of nightclub melee & shooting)

It only takes a casual look at the list to see that there is no pattern in discipline handed down by the league office.  One case clearly does not serve as precedent for another when determining penalties.

Consider if you will Brandon Marshall vs. Chris Henry.  Chris Henry was arrested four times, and cited two other times (DUI, Marijuana, Concealed Weapons, Assault, and Providing Alcohol to minors).  Brandon Marshall was arrested 4 times (DUI and Domestic Assault 3 times), charged two other times, involved in 7 additional Domestic Abuse calls, and police were summoned after Marshall fired a gun- at his own father.  How does the NFL justify suspending Chris Henry 8 games while giving Marshall only a single game?   Is it not evident that Marshall's list of transgressions was not only twice as long as Henry's, but likely more nefarious?

As a separate comparison, you could make an argument that Marshall's rap sheet is worse than Adam Pacman Jones'.  Pacman was arrested 5 times, charged once, and involved in a club incident that led to a man being paralyzed after a shooting.  Marshall was arrested four times, charged twice and involved in a nightclub argument that lead to a teammate's death.  Add to this his 8 other incidents, and Marshall's list of transgressions appears to outweigh Pacman's.

What happens when you compare Brandon Marshall vs. Michael Boley or Rocky Bernard or Fabian Washington?  The latter three were all involved in single domestic assault incidents against their spouses/girlfriends.  Each was suspended a game for their solo offense.  Yet Brandon Marshall's 14 incidents only merited a one game suspension?

Next would be the case of Ben Roethlisberger, who was never charged nor arrested, yet suspended 6 games by the NFL.  Roger Goodell and the NFL actually re-wrote the PCP (modified it) so they could apply it to a case like Roethlisberger's.  If one were to make a comparison of Roethlisberger's case to the other 15 players suspended under the PCP, the closest cases in comparison would be those involving domestic abuse.  Once again, consider Brandon Marshall.  Police (on 11 domestic abuse calls) noted such different injuries as facial lacerations, facial bruising, cuts to her legs that required stitches, and red marks.  Despite a lack of DNA, physical evidence, or even the D.A.'s office having enough information with which to pursue legal action, the NFL saw fit to levy a 6 game suspension on Roethlisberger as compared to Marshall's solo game.

Marshall isn't the only case that seems mishandled.  Tank Johnson receiving a suspension of 8 games as compared to 3 games for Marshawn Lynch doesn't add up (one of Marshawn’s incidents involved a hit and run with his vehicle which injured and could have killed another person).  Ricky Manning receiving a one game suspension after a felony assault charge while Larry Johnson received an identical one game suspension for four assault charges makes little sense.

It is difficult to make comparisons between these cases, because for the vast majority - there is none. 

The PCP is in Effect a PR Tool

The Player Conduct Policy appears to have been designed this way intentionally - because it is not a true "Policy."  Instead, it is a Public Relations tool.  Just as a person pulls out insect repellent to ward off swarms of insects, the NFL pulls out the Player Conduct Policy when the media begins to feed on its "bad boy" players.

The ability to wield the NFL Conduct Policy at his whim has given Roger the perception of a disciplinarian.  Frankly, this label couldn't be further from the truth.  A disciplinarian would wield the policy more often, more publicly and with universal application.   Goodell has instead been more like a sniper, targeting victims for punishment with the policy.

Consider the following quote from The Washington Post:  "The problem with the NFL's conduct policy is that it was designed not to halt off-field troubles as much as to squelch a looming public relations disaster that came after players like Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones were arrested two years ago. The policy was not an iron-clad set of rules and consequences but rather a fluid concept in which Commissioner Roger Goodell hands out punishment on a case-by-case basis."

If the NFL wants to create a true Policy, it needs to institute a penalty system (rules) that applies to all who break the tenets of the Policy.  The system should include a pre-identified list of punishments that apply to known criminal activities.  For instance, the league could institute a mandatory punishment of a 1 game suspension for a DUI conviction.  Period.  If you are convicted, you are suspended for a game.  Or for a Domestic Assault or Battery charge, said player upon conviction will suffer a 4 game mandatory suspension.  The NFL could then create a tiered system for repeat offenders, and perhaps include a "Three Strikes You’re Out" rule as well. 

As a public relations tool, the PCP is obviously aimed at protecting the NFL and it's revenue.  And this is why, for the most part, we see PCP penalty levied in those cases that get the most coverage by the media and/or those cases that "potentially" could do the most damage to the shield. 

Recently Goodell issued a memo to all teams, coaches, and GMS that read:  "The Policy makes clear that NFL and club personnel must do more than simply avoid criminal behavior. We must conduct ourselves in a way that 'is responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.' This standard reflects the recognition that the conduct and behavior of our players and other league and team employees is critically important. Whether it involves your team or another, these incidents affect us all -- every investigation, arrest, or other allegation of improper conduct undermines the respect for our league by our fans, lessens the confidence of our business partners and threatens the continued success of our brand."

I agree Roger, you must do more.  As the Commissioner of the NFL, I encourage you to heed your own edicts.  There are at least 200 unaddressed cases of arrests and citations you've conveniently overlooked. 

To date, you've simply not done enough.  Perhaps you should lead by example.


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