Should the NFL Be Suspending Players for Off-Field Behavior?

Roger Goodell’s reign as NFL commissioner has been marked by incredible financial success, a crackdown on off-field misbehavior, and a misguided case against Tom Brady that ended up embarrassing everyone involved. Put aside Deflategate for a second and ask yourself this: why does the NFL even bother suspending their players for off-field behavior?

Seriously, in a sport where the entire point is to violently maul the person across from you, and ex-players consistently die early – often by their own hands – does it really make sense to suspend a player for, say, breaking someone’s nose at a bar? And in a league where they don’t think twice about handing out painkillers like they’re candy in the middle of a terrible opiate crisis, should they really be suspending players for positive weed tests? Especially when marijuana is now legal in a growing number of states where they themselves do business?

Then there’s the fact that it is impossible to come up with consistent and fair punishments for off-field behavior. That goes double for someone as dense as Roger Goodell. Ray Rice was originally suspended two games for knocking his fiancée unconscious. After taking heavy criticism, Goodell changed the penalty for first-time domestic abusers (or more accurately, the first time they’re caught) to a six-game suspension. Then he doubled back, after the full video of Rice and his fiancée was released to the public, and suspended him indefinitely. That suspension was finally overturned on appeal for being “arbitrary.”

Arbitrary is a good word for the entire NFL disciplinary process. Adrian Peterson was initially suspended for his indictment on child abuse, and when he tried to come back, he was put on something called the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, which basically allowed him to be paid while still being “suspended” for an indefinite amount of time. It turned out to be the entire season, after which he was reinstated, once again arbitrarily.

Meanwhile, Josh Gordon hasn’t hurt a fly, and he hasn’t played since 2014 because of positive tests for booze and (mostly) weed. Does anyone believe this guy wasn’t smoking weed every day when he caught 87 balls in 2013? Clearly it doesn’t interfere with his work, and fans have proved they have no trouble cheering for (and paying money to see) players who smoke weed. They don’t give a shit; it’s the owners and Goodell who do. The NFL is literally only hurting itself by testing for weed and suspending those who are caught. It makes no sense. If you want to let individual teams drug test their own players for health and/or trust reasons, that’s a compromise the players could probably live with, but mandatory league-wide testing for drugs of abuse is unnecessary.

Even for more serious nonviolent crimes, would it really be so bad if they adopted a policy of leniency? If a player is in jail, he obviously can’t play. And teams could always suspend their own players if the owner or coach were so inclined. But limit league suspensions to on-field issues like PEDs and late hits, and have clear guidelines for each violation and each offense. That way, Goodell has very little discretion left to abuse. No more changing the rules as he goes.

If fans of any given team feel negatively enough about one of their players’ actions, they can pressure the owner to suspend him. Or the owner could act on their own. Otherwise, what’s wrong with having villains in the game? First of all, it makes it more fun to watch, and therefore more entertaining. And second of all, IT’S FUCKING FOOTBALL. Did you notice they crash into each other every single play? That’s because the game is built on violence. You think they cared if gladiators puffed on a blunt or whatever the equivalent was back in the day? Hell no. The fans were there to be entertained, and they rightly realized that one had nothing to do with the other.

I’m not condoning players who for some reason decide they need to drive drunk instead of waiting two minutes for a Lyft. They deserve to be brought to justice by the law. But if our legal system, as broken as it is, deems them fit to be free and they’re otherwise paying their debt to society – license suspension, anger management classes, restraining orders, etc. – then why should that interfere with their ability to go out and launch themselves into other men at full speed for your enjoyment?

Goodell would surely trot out some clichéd bullshit about the players being role models and “protecting the shield.” There would still be plenty of players for kids to look up to, and “the shield” really stands for using players up and spitting them out in the ceaseless march toward greater profits, and then lowballing them and fighting them in court when they turned out to be fucked up as a result of it.

Goodell would also say the NFL has an image to uphold. Well, Ray Rice is going to have a shitty public image no matter how long you suspend him. There’s no getting around that. But if you stopped testing for drugs of abuse, fewer players would have bad images, raising the NFL’s image as a whole. Josh Gordon being a prime example.

These suspensions are unnecessary and bad for business. Goodell and the league office also have no idea how to dish them out fairly. It’s about time we gave it a rest.

To Top