Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The National Football League – time to send Pacman, Packing

The National Football League concludes three days of meetings in Phoenix today with predictable results – the good ship NFL is steady as ever. When it comes to the National Football League with few exceptions it’s one for all and all for one. The NFL which shares more than 85 percent of all their revenues began their meetings Monday by announcing the Robin Hood Effect will continue. And while the league’s much anticipated player conduct code still requires some fine tuning and won’t be formally announced before next month’s NFL draft, will send a clear message to those whose intent is to damage the reputation of the NFL – it will no longer be tolerated.

"It's a complicated issue and there are no simple answers," Goodell said, adding he planned to meet with coaches and owners to discuss player conduct. "We want to find out what is working well with the clubs and what is not working, get a set of best practices so they can implement them on a local basis."

"We're expecting discipline will be stepped up," he added.

The multi-level plan Goodell intends to put in place will include suspensions for players who run in legal problems (as long as a year) and significant fines for organizations who offer ‘safe harbor’ and employment to NFL players exhibiting deviant behavior that is unacceptable in normal society.

“I don’t like it,” Goodell said at a news conference at the annual N.F.L. meetings. “I think it’s a bad reflection on the N.F.L. It’s not what the N.F.L. represents. I don’t believe it represents our players. It’s a very few number of players. They are tainting the league and tainting the other players. People understand the age group of men we have in our league. I think people understand it, but I probably understand it less than most.”

“To some extent, what we’re looking at is if there are a number of players that have repeat offenses, that will be something that our players and clubs will feel at some point we need to act before the judicial system acts,” Goodell said.

At the center of Roger Goodell’s “perfect storm” of deviant behavior when it comes to NFL players -- Adam "Pacman" Bernard Jones. To Roger Goodell and the National Football League – Pacman behavior off the football field represents a clear and present danger to the future of our football team and to our organization? A simple definition of “deviant behavior” describes exactly what Pacman off field antics are all about – a person would be considered to be acting deviant in society if they are violating what the significant social norm in that particular culture is.

After his junior year at West Virginia, he opted to forego his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. He was the first defensive player drafted, taken 6th overall by the Tennessee Titans. He then held out in a contract dispute, missing most of training camp.

During his rookie season he had a total of 44 tackles, 10 pass deflections, but no interceptions. He totaled 1,399 return yards and 1 TD.

At the end of his sophomore season in the NFL, Jones totals 62 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 12 deflected passes, 4 interceptions, 130 return yards, 1 interception touchdown, 440 punt return yards and 3 punt return touchdowns. His 12.9 yards per punt return average led the NFL, edging out Chicago's Devin Hester by .1 of a yard. His 26.1 yards per kick return average ranked him 7th in the league. Pacman also caught two passes on offense for 31 yards and rushed twice for 8 yards. His best performance came against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15; Jones had an 83-yard interception returned for a score, a 70-yard kick return, and broke up a touchdown pass to Matt Jones to save the game.

Even with constant off the field incidents, he has emerged as one of the NFL's elite playmakers. He is an explosive kick returner, as well as good cover corner. He, in certain packages, also plays offense.

His success on the field is a striking contrast to what has gone on off the football field, the latest incident taking place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. The Tennessean offered this timeline of Jones’ incredible series of run-ins with the legal system:

Strip club incident

Where: Atlanta

When: April 2005

What: Jones' name appeared on the police incident report after a fight broke out in a strip club. The female involved said she had no plans to pursue the case and it was dismissed.

Comments: "Other than being visible at the place, that is the extent of the story," said Michael Huyghue, Jones' agent. "Unfortunately you can never just be in places where anything can happen, and that is a lesson you learn, even if you are completely not involved."

Titans reaction: Team officials said they believed Jones did nothing wrong.

Hotel incident

Where: Nashville

When: June 2005

What: Security officials at Regal Maxwell House Hotel had trouble getting two of Jones' friends to clear their room after checkout time. Police arrived, smelled marijuana and found some on a tabletop. Jones was in the room, but one of his friends took full responsibility for the evidence.

Titans reaction: No comment

Nightclub arrest

Where: Nashville

When: July 2005

What: Jones was arrested on two counts of misdemeanor assault and a felony count of vandalism after a fight at a Nashville nightclub. Charges were dismissed less than a year later.

Titans reaction: "Unfortunately we realize that some young players go through a maturing process to become professionals that includes decision-making, choosing friends, appropriate behavior, etc.," the team said in a statement. "Jones has not finished that maturing process, despite team and league efforts."

Vehicle confiscation

Where: Nashville

When: April 2006

What: Metro Police said a vehicle registered to Jones was involved in a drug trafficking ring. "Pac Man" was embroidered on the leather seats of a 2004 Cadillac XLR which was confiscated from a friend of Jones. Jones later bought the car back at an auction.

Comments: "Clearly there is some connection between Mr. Jones and one of the arrested individuals," Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson said. "But I want to emphasize he has not been charged."

Titans reaction: No comment

Shots fired

Where: Nashville

When: April 2006

What: Jones was at the scene where gunshots were fired following an altercation at a Nashville gas station at 1:50 a.m. Police questioned Jones but labeled him only as a witness. The incident occurred just three days after the vehicle confiscation.

Comments: "My name has been falsely dragged into these matters that are completely unrelated to me," Jones said.

Titans reaction: Coach Jeff Fisher met with Jones the next day, but declined to comment.

Nightclub arrest

Where: Murfreesboro

When: August 2006

What: Jones was arrested and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, for an incident at Sweetwater Saloon. With six months of good behavior the charges will be dropped, a judge ruled last month.

Comments: "An innocent bystander," Jones said.

Titans reaction: No comment

Spitting incident

Where: Nashville

When: October 2006

What: Jones was issued a citation for misdemeanor assault after being accused of spitting in the face of a Tennessee State student following a verbal exchange at a downtown nightclub. The charge was dismissed in general sessions court earlier this month.

Comments: "If I'm going to go out, I'm going to have to be at a little private spot,'' Jones said. "Maybe I'll chill out at a jazz bar or something with some older folks."

Titans reaction: No comment

Triple shooting

Where: Las Vegas

When: Monday morning

What: Jones has been questioned by Las Vegas police after he was at the scene of a triple shooting. According to Jones' attorney, the cornerback is not a suspect in the case.

Comments: "(Pacman Jones) told me, 'Man, I am not a suspect and didn't have anything to do with this,' " attorney Worrick Robinson said.

Titans reaction: No comment

Tuesday, what had to be one of the days Pacman would just as soon forget, learnt Roger Goodell wants Pacman at the NFL offices next Tuesday (April 3) and Las Vegas police are recommending prosecutors file a felony charge of coercion and misdemeanor charges of battery and threat against Jones, stemming from a Feb. 19 strip club fight and shooting (the much reported incident that took place in the hours following the NBA All-Star Game that was held in Las Vegas).

While Pacman continues to remain tightlipped about the impending end to his NFL career, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher issued the following statement Tuesday on behalf of the Titans to the Associated Press: "He's very disappointed with what's happened," Fisher said. "He thinks he let the city, the fans and his teammates and the organization down."

Does anyone really care if Pacman is sorry, and does he deserve another chance at redeeming himself? What happened in Vegas and clearly isn’t about to stay in Vegas was the latest in a series of what is unacceptable behavior in any decent law abiding society from Pacman, his tenth “run-in” with the law.

Pac-Man earned $3.8 million as a member of the Titans in 2005 after being selected with the sixth overall pick by the Titans. According to the NFLPA’s salary database, Jones was paid $842,500 in 2006 and is scheduled to be paid $1.29 million in 2007.

Its important to understand NFL players are paid the bonuses included in their contracts immediately upon signing and are paid whatever additional salaries they or their agents negotiate during the years of the contract. Pac-Man has two more years after the 2007 season remaining in his contract ($1.74 million in 2008 and $2.19 million in 2009). The Titans can cut Jones if they wish (if they cut him before the start of the 2007 they would not be responsible for the remaining three years or the remaining $5.22 million on his contract).

Tuesday The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry is facing 88 days in jail for driving on a suspended license, not wearing a seat belt and not using a turn signal. Henry pleaded guilty Jan. 25 to providing alcohol to minors. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail but he served two days and the rest of the time was probated. However, it was made very clear upon his release that he ran into any legal issues (yes even a traffic ticket) he’d be forced to serve the remaining 88 days of his sentence. Henry was arrested four times between December 2005 and June 2006.

Earlier Tuesday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis faced a barrage of questions from the media in Phoenix covering the NFL meetings intent not on asking Lewis how he feels about the Bengals chances on the football field in 2007, but how head coach of the NFL team with the single most arrests in 2006 (ten Bengals where arrested during the 2006 NFL season) felt about Roger Goodell’s intention to introduce a player conduct code for the NFL.

"You mean the '06 team?" Lewis said. "It's a perception you don't want to have. It's a reaction to one particular player who had a run of bad acts, selfish acts, and I don't think it's a fair image for the entire thing. But anything that goes wrong, any particular breaking of the law, social law, none of it's good. I think, hopefully, we are all looking at the same thing. I think the only thing that affects this is play time. We have to combine a couple of things (playing time, fines). You have to know coming in that the action is going to be quick and it's going to get you."

Lewis did offer some very insightful comments relating to how the Bengals have handled the players they’ve drafted in recent years, suggesting talent was more important than character to an organization that has defines what losing is both on and off the football field.

“There’s a tendency to buy the bargain and we’re not in a position to do that any more,” Lewis told “Mike (Brown) has given those guys a second opportunity. His father made a history of that and so that’s what he knows and believes in that guy’s (willingness) to take the initiative to further his career and turn a corner in their life and know it’s a privilege to play in the NFL and they’ll figure it out.”

Lewis knows the Bengals may be taking themselves out of a Dillon or Johnson with what he calls "a new approach,” which appears to be taking character questions off their draft board completely.

“That can be your choice. It’s not a bad choice. There are a lot of good players,” Lewis said of taking a player with baggage. “(But) there are too many other (good) guys. You’re spending too much time trying to change habits instead of coaching the good guys.”

Lewis who clearly has to be upset he’s coaching a group of malcontents understands it’s a double edged sword. With his world seemingly falling apart after the eighth Bengal was arrested during the 2006 NFL season, Lewis made as strong a statement as any NFL official has ever offered about the off-field abnormal behavior he was forced to deal with during the 2006 season.

"It's an embarrassment to our organization, to our city, and to our fans," Bengals coach Mavin Lewis said during a news conference in late November. "These things socially are not right. Hopefully this is a positive so our young people who are fans understand there are certain things in our society that are unacceptable. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or who you are, you've got to follow those rules and laws. I think we should feel good around here that our local law enforcement has taken steps to curtail and get people who drink and drive off the road."

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft took a stand against employing players with criminal records. In the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft, the Patriots picked Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter, who had been arrested eight times (and convicted four times) during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former Miss Nebraska and the rape of another woman. When Peter's past came to light (it was Kraft’s wife who alerted her husband), Kraft cut the player before he was even offered a contract. "We concluded this behavior is incompatible with our organization's standards of acceptable conduct" said Kraft. While he received numerous letters of support from high school and college coaches, he was not praised by the NFL. Peter’s had a seven-year NFL career.

If Robert Kraft’s stand against Peter meant nothing after Peter ‘enjoyed’ the benefits (financial and personal) of being an NFL players, is there any explanation for why NFL owners allow players whose off-field behavior is out of the boundaries of the law? spoke with John F. Murray, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Sport
Performance Psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida. “I think all owners would like to have a totally clean image and completely law abiding players. It only helps their franchise in their own community, helps the image of the NFL which they have an obvious stake in and ultimately helps their team perform better with fewer distractions. The problem is that there is also a great temptation to take a player who might not have the halo over his head if he can bring immediate improvement to the team, and there is competition for these on-field talents. Another problem I believe is that owners could invest more wisely in player evaluations. I have seen some of the evaluations conducted in the NFL, and while they are thorough in many areas, one area that appears to be still lacking is the solid evaluation of mental skills and psychological factors, and this is an area that presents a huge upside in talent evaluation in the future. There are so few legitimate sport psychologists, but they need to be more involved in assessment,” Murray told SBN.

The roots of the aberrant behavior among football players isn’t difficult to understand or how, where and why it begins.

First as Pop Warner stars, than as Kings of their High School football teams, graduating to big men on campus at whichever college they choose to play football at, these young men have lived their lives on a pedestal, with a sense of entitlement that they are better than everyone else, different from everyone else and all to often believe they are above the law. That of course are the wrong lessons to teach young men, but nonetheless that sense of “I’m the best at what I do” remains at the heart of what many believe makes them great football players. It’s a great deal more difficult to become a Warrick Dunn than it is an Adam Pac-Man Jones, and for that society should be ashamed of itself.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: and The New York Times.