Battle has just begun
Goodell knows it will be hard to fix conduct problem
Posted: Wednesday April 11, 2007 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday April 11, 2007 3:13PM
All you need is one look at the personal conduct policy that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down on Tuesday to know that the man isn't playing around. Along with slapping a season-long suspension on Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and an eight-game punishment on Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry, Goodell sent a blaring message to the rest of the league's teams, coaches and players. That statement wasn't just about a first-year commissioner flexing his muscles. It was about a first-year commissioner doing some serious educating.
Goodell understands this matter is much bigger than a couple players whose lives were spinning out of control. He needed to make an entire league open its eyes to exactly what is at risk here. The league's popularity could be seriously damaged if the personal conduct issue gets bigger.
The reality is that several factors are playing into off-field problems. There's more guaranteed money in the NFL these days, which can make players less appreciative about the opportunity they have to earn a living as a pro athlete. And there's more transition in a player's life because of free agency, which means it's easier for a player to not care about the impact of his actions on his current team and community. Player movement also makes it tougher for veterans to wield as much influence over younger players. The idea of the locker room policing itself isn't realistic anymore.
All these factors have created a perfect storm for players to get in trouble. If they can't find ways to curtail their behavior, they need to understand that somebody else will. That's the beauty of what Goodell has created. It is forcing everybody -- owners, general managers, coaches and other players -- to take an active interest in correcting this problem.
So far, we know the NFL Players Association is on board. Union chief Gene Upshaw has been vocal about dealing with player conduct and many of his team reps have informed Goodell about their thoughts on the matter. But Goodell's willingness to punish clubs and coaches under this conduct policy speaks volumes about how serious he is about stifling any further dilemmas. As much as Jones and Henry are responsible for their conduct, it doesn't help that they've been enabled by organizations far too willing to place a greater value on a player's talents than his character. The NFL is all about winning and the desperation to win is what is allowing these other problems to grow.
The Titans decided to invest heavily in Pacman Jones even though he had enough red flags around him to warrant concern. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Henry even though he was a bigger risk than Jones. I'm not saying these players didn't deserve a chance to make a life in the NFL, because there are plenty of players who have overcome their checkered pasts. I do believe, however, that there should be some accountability for the teams who bring them in.
That's why I like the idea of this not being a player conduct policy but a personal conduct policy. That's why I'm glad teams will be subject to discipline for any transgressions by their employees.
It's important to point out this will not be an easy fix. The league didn't change overnight and it certainly won't rid itself of all its new problems a few weeks from now. It can, however, accept the message the commissioner has sounded and trust that it's an important one to heed. After all, the NFL is taking on the first significant assault on its popularity in years. Goodell, from all indications, expects everybody to pitch in to make sure this fight is won.