Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Roger Goodell tries to regain control of the National Football League

When Roger Goodell arrived at the NFL’s Park Avenue offices Tuesday, Goodell likely was greeted with the front page of the USA Today’s sports section at the NFL’s New York offices. The entire front page of the USA Today’s sports section was filled with the head and shoulder pictures (resembling mug shots) of the more than 50 NFL players who were arrested last year. The timing couldn’t have been better, Tuesday afternoon Goodell sent a message to NFL players – deviant behavior is unacceptable in society and will no longer be tolerated if athletes want to play in the National Football League.

The modifications of how the NFL will deal with “NFL players acting badly” including focusing on expanded educational and support programs in addition to increased levels of discipline for violations of the policy, Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

"It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff," Commissioner Goodell said. "We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League. We have long had policies and programs designed to encourage responsible behavior, and this policy is a further step in ensuring that everyone who is part of the NFL meets that standard. We will continue to review the policy and modify it as warranted."

Added NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw: "The NFL Players Association and the Player Advisory Council have been discussing this issue for several months. We believe that these are steps that the commissioner needs to take and we support the policy. It is important that players in violation of the policy will have the opportunity and the support to change their conduct and earn their way back."


The annual rookie symposium of all drafted players will be expanded to include mandatory year-round rookie orientation by all clubs that will reinforce the information presented at the June symposium.
An expanded annual life-skills program for all players and clubs will be mandatory.
There will be mandatory briefings each year for all players and clubs given by local law enforcement representatives. These briefings will cover laws pertaining to possession of guns, drinking and driving, domestic disputes and other matters, including gang-related activities in the community that could be of significance to players, coaches, and other club-related personnel.
Every club will be required to implement a program for employees to enhance compliance with laws relating to drinking and driving.
Counseling and treatment programs for all club and league employees that violate the policy will be expanded.


The standard of socially responsible conduct for NFL employees will be higher. Club and league employees will be held to a higher standard than players. Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL will be subject to discipline, even if not criminal in nature.
Discipline for individuals that violate the policy will include larger fines and longer suspensions.
Repeat violations of the personal conduct policy will be dealt with aggressively, including discipline for repeat offenders even when the conduct itself has not yet resulted in a conviction of a crime.
Individuals suspended under the policy must earn their way back to active status by fully complying with professional counseling and treatment that will include evaluation on a regular basis.
Clubs will be subject to discipline in cases involving violations of the Personal Conduct Policy by club employees. In determining potential club discipline going forward, the commissioner will consider all relevant factors, including the history of conduct-related violations by that club's employees and the extent to which the club's support programs are consistent with best practices as identified and shared with the clubs. Recommended best practices include having a full-time club player development director and a full-time club security director.

Goodell’s day only began with the long anticipated announcement. Goodell sent Adam Packman Jones packing suspending him for the entire 2007 season and the Cincinnati Bengals Chris Henry for the first eight games of the 2007 season. Both men as has been well documented have had numerous legal issues in their brief NFL careers.

“We must protect the integrity of the NFL," Commissioner Goodell said. "The highest standards of conduct must be met by everyone in the NFL because it is a privilege to represent the NFL, not a right. These players, and all members of our league, have to make the right choices and decisions in their conduct on a consistent basis."

In a letter to each player, Commissioner Goodell wrote: "Your conduct has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club, and the NFL, and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league. You have put in jeopardy an otherwise promising NFL career, and have risked both your own safety and the safety of others through your off-field actions. In each of these respects, you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFL and failed to live up to the standards expected of NFL players. Taken as a whole, this conduct warrants significant sanction."

Jones will be strictly monitored by the Titans and the NFL during the suspension as part of his opportunity to earn reinstatement through adherence to a set of conditions. His status will be reviewed after the Titans' 10th regular-season game to determine the extent to which he has complied with the conditions and whether the suspension should be affected by the disposition of any pending or prospective charges.

The specific conditions that apply to Jones' suspension include the following:

He must have no further adverse involvement with law enforcement.
He must fully cooperate with all required counseling, education, and treatment assigned under league or court-ordered programs.
He must adhere to the restrictions on his activities that have been agreed to by he and the Titans.
He may not be at the Titans' facility through May 31 and may not participate in any practices or organized workouts during the term of the suspension. Beginning June 1, he must visit the team facility once each week to meet with the team's player development director. Also, beginning June 1, he is permitted to spend one day a week at the team facility for conditioning, film study, and other similar activities.
In conjunction with the team's player development director and other professionals working with him, Jones must develop with the Titans a structured program of community service or other activity. This program must be submitted to the league office for review and approval.

For their part, a statement released by the Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams suggests they may have had enough of Jones and his antics.

“We are one team among 32 in a league that has collectively bargained with its players on a number of issues,” Adams’ statement said. “One of those issues is discipline and the Commissioner has far greater discretion and power in matters of discipline than individual clubs. This level of corrective action is simply not available to the team, and we made the conscious decision to defer to the Commissioner’s action with respect to the League’s Conduct Policy. We also believe that any suspension by the Commissioner has ramifications to the player’s contract status and can be dealt with by the team in due course.

“Unfortunately, this decision does not end our deliberations about this player for our team. We will need assurances from the player on a number of issues before we are comfortable having him return to the team. Until we see a change in behavior through his actions and until he shows the ability to avoid controversy off the field, we will move forward with the possibility that he may not return to this team.

“We feel that the future for Jones rests with him, his ability to meet the standards required by the league and the team, and his effort to earn back trust from the organization, teammates, the NFL and the fans. Only if he meets these guidelines will he be allowed to return to the team.”

Jones has been arrested five times, although he has yet to be convicted of anything. Charges are expected to be filed against Jones in a triple shooting that occurred outside a Las Vegas club in the hours following the NBA All-Star Game on February 19.

To Goodell and the National Football League – Pacman’s 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.

The Tennessean reported Jones’ suspension could mean roughly $3.1 million in lost wages. He was scheduled to make $1.29 million in base salary in 2007. The Titans are also expected to go after the prorated portion of his signing bonus, which would be another $1.81 million.

Henry will be reinstated after the Bengals' eighth regular-season game if he meets certain conditions during his suspension that will be monitored closely by the Bengals and the NFL.

Those conditions include the following:

He must have no further adverse involvement with law enforcement.
He must fully cooperate with all required counseling, education, and treatment assigned to him under league programs.
He is eligible to be at the Bengals' facilities during the rest of the offseason for customary activities and he must meet weekly with the team's player development director.
If he fully complies with all other conditions, he may participate in the Bengals' training camp and preseason games.
During the regular season, he is permitted to be at the Bengals' facility for team meetings and must meet weekly with the team's player development director, but he may not attend or participate in practice.
He must fully comply with all conditions imposed on him by any court, including requirements of community service.
Jones and Henry were told that any failure to comply with these conditions will result in additional discipline, including possible banishment from the league.

"I must emphasize to you that this is your last opportunity to salvage your NFL career," Commissioner Goodell wrote to Jones and Henry. "I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you in that effort."

While the Titans seem to be seriously looking at their options regarding Jones, the Bengals had a more tempered response Tuesday.

“We support the Commissioner’s ruling,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a press release, “and while we regret the circumstances that called for it, it’s good for both Chris and the Bengals to have the matter resolved. Our team will move forward, and now it is up to Chris to acquire a more mature understanding of his responsibilities as a player for the Bengals and a representative of the NFL.”

According to the Associated Press, Henry loses $204,705.88 in salary if the Bengals bye week comes after Week 8. He'll lose $230,294.12 if the Bengals bye week falls in the first eight weeks of the season, meaning he will miss nine weeks of pay.

Several Bengals made it clear to they weren’t happy with Tuesday’s news concerning their teammate. Henry was arrested four times in 2006.

"I'm not allowed to say what I think of the ruling or else I might be disciplined," said Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson. "I don't want to make the situation more complicated than it already is. The ruling is unfortunate and I'll just leave it at that."

“We already know he’s a hard ball. I don’t think he needs to prove that anymore,” said Johnson of Goodell. “We get the point. We all know he’s not playing any games. He’s in a position right now I think he’s going to prove a point. How harsh that point is, he might get a little ridiculous with it. Where this is not necessary.”

Fellow receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, one of the players who met with Goodell at the commissioner’s summit on player conduct in February, felt he was going to make a stand.

“You know he wants to set a precedent and make an example,” Houshmandzadeh said. “Hopefully it’s not too big. But regardless if it is something it’s going to hurt us.

“You would think it is necessary because of the negative publicity that the NFL is beginning to receive. It was going on for an extended period of time. Each week something was happening. To clean up the game, whatever does happen, if I was a rookie coming in, you just don’t put yourself in that position.”

Henry, 23, a big-play wide receiver with 15 touchdown catches during his first two NFL seasons, has become one of the faces of the league’s mushrooming criminal problem even though his fourth and last arrest came nearly a year ago. The suspension stems from his last two arrests back in the spring.

Reaction in Tuesday’s USA Today (before Goodell handed down his punishment) suggested at the end of the day talent is more of a concern than an athlete’s behavior in today’s win at all cost National Football League.

"You can release a player if he's not talented enough and you feel he wasn't going to be good enough to play at that position," New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton says. "But the challenge is if something else happens and you release a player, there's a certain protocol that has to take place."

And what exactly coach Payton is that challenge. NFL contracts are not guaranteed. If an organization believes a player’s off the field behavior isn’t acceptable to the standards they’ve set for their team, an NFL team is free to cut that player. The player collects his entire bonus (a team can try and collect the prorated portion of the bonus they’ve paid, but that as the Titans will find out is more difficult than they think it will be), and have that money count against their salary cap total. It will take a ‘real’ NFL owner and organization to make that tough a statement.

Take the case of Chicago Bears Terry "Tank" Johnson the teams’ starting defensive tackle. During week fifteen of the NFL’s regular season schedule, Johnson was arrested at his Chicago home and charged with misdemeanor weapons charges. It was the third time Johnson had been arrested in the last 18 months.

Hours after his arrest Bears general manager Jerry Angelo reportedly warned Johnson he was down to his final chance with the Bears. Jones once again ran into some serious problems. Early Friday morning on December 15, Johnson’s bodyguard William Posey was murdered in a Chicago nightclub. Johnson was present at the shooting. Johnson did not play in that Sunday’s Bears 34-31 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the win the Bears 2006 record moved to 12-2, and the team clinched home field advantage through the NFC title game. It was a good thing for the Bears that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Chicago for the NFC spot in Super Bowl XLI. Johnson was placed on ‘house arrest’. He missed the Bears last regular season road game, played the teams two home playoff games. And yes he was allowed to travel to the Super Bowl in Miami on what amounted to a work release program. What else did anyone really expect from the Bears who where trying to return to their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season?

What next for the Bears and Johnson? Literally hours after being told he was down to his last chance to remain a Chicago Bear would general manager Jerry Angelo follow through on his threat to cut the teams ties with their starting defensive tackle, a key member of the Bears defense? Would the Bears really consider jeopardizing their chances to win a Super Bowl because a player had behaved badly?

"We have talked to Tank," Angelo said Friday according to The Chicago Tribune. "We talk to all of our players … and we spend an inordinate amount of time educating our players on all matters outside of football. It is something we did discuss with Tank."

Angelo acknowledged that "each situation is a little bit different and we look at each situation," but he added, "At some point, a player has to be held accountable for his actions."

Jones, Henry and Johnson (and far too many other NFL’ers) are living scenes from the short-lived ESPN series Playmakers. One episode of Playmakers featured the teams’ star rookie running back involved in a shooting with friends he had well before he was a college or NFL star at a nightclub. The fictional character is asked to decide between telling the truth or standing by his ‘boys from the hood’. The player lies to the police believing the bonds he has with his lifelong friends are more important than telling the truth.

"I would never disassociate myself from a friend, good or bad," Bears cornerback Ricky Manning Jr., told The Chicago Tribune who was involved in an incident last April (2006) that resulted in felony assault charges against Manning and some friends he might have thought better of hanging out with.

"I just wouldn't turn my back on a friend regardless. But the difference is, if they are any kind of friend, they know what I can and can't do. I'm not going to go around acting crazy for the most part. But I definitely wouldn't disassociate myself from them."

The NFL once advised Bears wide receiver Curtis Conway according to The Chicago Tribune report to not return to the Los Angeles neighborhood he grew up in, reminding him he didn’t grow up in the best part of town.

"These guys are your friends and you try your best to still be cordial and stay away from what they do, but everybody is looking for something," Conway said. "More than anything, that's the pressure. Because a guy is [saying] like, 'Come on over and watch the game, have a bite to eat.' And you're sitting there knowing he might have something on him, but then that's your boy. You've been in that house a thousand times.

"After [many] years, I've thought of so many excuses they kind of realize where I stand. And then at some point you just have to tell them, 'Man, I can't get caught up in what's going on.' Some of them understand, some of them don't."

The great irony in regard to Playmakers, which remains a defining moment in the evolution of ESPN (both positive and negative), was the decision ESPN made to cancel the series after being pressured by the National Football League.

Playmakers portrayed the NFL for what it remains, a place where regardless of how you behave Monday to Saturday if you can stand and deliver on Sunday, you’ll get to play on Sunday and earn millions of dollars. The absurdity of Playmakers – the NFL did whatever they had to do to have a fictional drama about an NFL team cancelled, but chooses to take a blind eye to the real life actions of some of its players. The NFL, its Playmakers the series coming to life, except as long as you can win on Sunday, you won’t be cancelled.

Tuesday was a good day for the National Football League, a step forward from a league fast becoming known as the Nationals Felons League than the National Football League. However actions speak much louder than words. It remains to be seen if Titans owner Bud Adams is prepared to look at his options relating to Pacman Jones’ future with the Titans, certainly when that bell rang for the Chicago Bears they decided winning on Sunday was a great deal more important than a players’ actions during the other six days of the week.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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