Drug possession. Purchasing alcohol for minors. Driving under the influence. Possession of firearms without a license. Those are just a few of the crimes that have besmirched the image of the National Football League since the start of 2006. Unless the National Football League is planning on collaborating with The Smoking Gun on a series of mug shot posters, something needs to be done about it.
In response to Adam “Pacman” Jones’s latest legal troubles (involvement in a triple shooting at a Las Vegas strip club, apparently set off when the dancers had the audacity to pick up the $81,000 in cash Jones was throwing on the stage), one suggested league response has been a “three strikes” plan. Three strikes, thus far undefined, and a player would be expelled from the league. While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is seeking player input on such a course of action, ESPN.com Page 2 columnist Bomani Jones has already disputed it, offering that NFL teams should police their own rosters. Jones (Bomani, that is) also offers a smart solution of not guaranteeing potential problem players any money, a la the Rams and Lawrence Philips, so they could be cut and the team wouldn’t suffer a serious salary cap hit. The problem there, however, is the assumption that all NFL clubs will cut such players as the Rams did Phillips.
These teams aren’t blind to the dubious pasts of players like Jones, who received two years probation following a bar fight while at West Virginia. Still, they draft these players and put them on the field because they guys in the front office believe they will help the team win games and, in turn, generate more revenue. Look at Major League Baseball. Even when players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were widely perceived to be using performance enhancing drugs to shatter age-old home run records, baseball turned a blind eye. Now the league is left in a murky middle ground where it hesitates to punish rule breakers that they over looked in the past. The result is an embarrassing one for baseball, whose own commissioner now can’t figure out how to treat the sport’s most sacred record.
If the NFL wants to avoid such a morass, then it needs to act resolutely from the top and not merely hope the teams control the problem for them. But then comes the issue of the players that would be affected by any new league-wide punishment policy. And there are those that would advocate that guys like Adam Jones are just misunderstood or get caught up in circumstances they can’t control. Noted.
It would be so easy for me to sit here and criticize guys like Adam Jones, Chris Henry and Tank Williams for conduct off the playing field and heap all of the blame for the NFL’s image crisis at their feet. You know why? Because it is easy.
These guys are not misunderstood because there’s nothing to misunderstand. Save the spin for the juries. These are grown men we’re talking about here, not high school boys who got mixed up in the wrong crowd, or college kids who got pinched for a bad decision lots of people have made. By the time players reach the NFL, they ought to be able to figure out that hanging around with guys who carry hand guns and have short tempers is probably a bad idea. These players aren’t an unfortunate lot, they’re the lucky ones. They have the money (if not the smarts) to put themselves in an environment to keep themselves out of trouble. Instead, they provide alcohol to minors, throw $80,000 around strip clubs and harbor small arsenals in their basements. Those were all choices made out of free will.
This stuff is common sense. Players aren’t being asked to calculate the next digit of Pi here. All they have to do is not break the law, just like the rest of us. If they do that, they can keep on cashing those ridiculous paychecks. Seems like a pretty fair deal to me. Common sense, however, seems to have eluded a number of the NFL’s members and if the league wants to keep its reputation clean, it is going to have to intervene.
Three strikes, drastic fines against players, fines leveled against teams, salary cap penalties — pick one. Pick more than one. But anyone associated with the issue should not pretend this problem is going to solve itself, or that teams will have the decency to expel players capable of helping them.