Image is everything
NFL must avoid following in NBA, MLB's footsteps
Posted: Friday April 6, 2007 1:06PM; Updated: Friday April 6, 2007 1:20PM
I didn't believe the NFL was on the verge of a major image problem until I watched a recent interview with Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones. Before that, I doubted a string of off-the-field issues could threaten the league's popularity. After it, I realized the fact that a discussion with a diminutive, dreadlocked, drama-prone football player could hold my attention for longer than 10 minutes had to say something about the state of the NFL. When problem children like Pacman can dominate the headlines this long, they eventually can taint an entire league.
If you need evidence, consider what's happened to the NBA, a league that's still recovering from an image problem that can't be fixed with a dress code and a rule to keep recent high school graduates out of the draft. Think about Major League Baseball and all we've learned about performance-enhancing drugs because of the issues in that sport over the last few years. The NFL isn't that far away from facing its own public relations crisis. The league was once so dominant that it could grind through any potential trouble simply because fans love their teams but those days have passed. The longer the bad news lingers in the headlines, the more people will start wondering why these guys can't control themselves.
Of course, opponents to this argument contend it's just a small group of players causing all the problems. One NFL Players Association representative recently told me that only three percent of the league (or 60 out of 1,920 players) has had any off-the-field trouble within the past 12 months and that nobody is talking the good other players are doing. What that argument fails to address is that it is usually a small percentage of players who are creating the trouble. But the unwillingness of people to proactively address what those actions could mean to the majority of players that ultimately leads to more concerns.
This is why I like how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is approaching this matter. He sees exactly where it could lead and he's taking the attitude that he's not going to govern over a potential loss in popularity for his league. When he started talking about a conduct policy that could include the possibility of banishing players from the league in severe cases, you knew the guy wasn't fooling around. And to be honest, I don't blame him. Just look at some of what Goodell has had to deal with since succeeding Paul Tagliabue last year.
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