Some Common Sense Thoughts About Player Punishment..........

Discussion in 'Front Page News' started by soulman, Sep 17, 2014 at 2:14 PM.

  1. soulman

    soulman Pro-Bowler SuperFan DBS Writer

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    What is sensible discipline for NFL player misconduct?

    [​IMG]Understatement to say that the NFL and its teams are struggling to fashion appropriate discipline for allegations of NFL player misconduct. As I’ve written before, these problems were completely foreseeable when sports leagues take a bigger role in extra-judicial punishments. And sell to the public that it is appropriate for them to do so.

    Everybody has an opinion on this, and I will share mine. I have a unique perspective as I’ve worked for large companies as an in-house lawyer, dealing with crisis management and employment law among other issues. In addition, I’ve worked with my husband who is a former assistant district attorney and currently practices criminal defense. And I’ve written professionally about the NFL since 2006, including changes over time to the personal conduct policy.

    The short answer? I can’t think of a fair, sensible way to satisfy the people angry at player misconduct. The NFL as a sports league aren’t experts at criminal justice, and even governments have a difficult time dispensing fair, just results.

    So instead of pretending I have all the answers, I will float some thoughts I think are relevant to the discussion of trying to create such a policy.

    Factors in looking a NFL player misconduct discipline:

    1. What is the purpose of league punishment? The league and the public believes that playing in the NFL is a privilege and the standard should be higher than the law.

    But what does that even mean? At what point is NFL punishment sufficient to “fix” things? I don’t think this question has been asked much.

    Suspension of two games, six games, a zero-tolerance life time ban?

    Is the purpose of punishment deterrence? Given that they’ve had variations of a personal conduct policy for a long time and there continues to be issues, I don’t think that the conduct policy is deterrent. Human beings often make choices that are self-destructive and not in their best interests. All it takes for this to happen once, and it is life transforming. Typically, most of the cases my husband sees are people who see themselves as law abiding citizens who have never been in trouble with the law before.

    Is the purpose of punishment PR? I’ve written before that the NFL voluntarily taking on a larger role in ad hoc player discipline has actually put a greater spot light on player bad acts, by creating a CourtTV commentary industry speculating on what are fair punishments for bad acts.

    Is the purpose of punishment to assuage angry people? Not sure how much punishment helps that. No matter what the league assesses, it will be too much or too little depending on who is looking at the situation.

    Is the purpose of punishment helping victims? The punishment that Ray Rice received is not seen as a positive by his wife. Harsh additional league punishment of Adrian Peterson likely does not make his childrens’ lives better. If accepting a plea leads to harsh league punishment, a player may choose to go to trial versus accepting a plea, even if the trial process will be extremely painful for the victim to relive.

    If the NFL comes down harsh on players, will some victims avoid seeking help because they are afraid of draconian consequences? In fact, sometimes in the criminal justice system, punishments are tailored to help the victims of crimes. For example, allowing an offender to serve jail time on weekends to preserve a job and income to pay for restitution. (Not an issue for marque players but likely an issue for some others).

    For those who suggest zero-tolerance punishments, I guess my question is this:

    Should all offenders be considered beyond redemption? That if someone commits a crime, should they forever be considered beyond the help of therapy or forgiveness or whatever you want to call it and forever unemployable? Maybe there are some truly evil people beyond help, but I think a blanket rejection of rehabilitation can be a counterproductive thing for our society to embrace.

    I don’t have answers to this. I don’t think as a society we think of these issues very well for our criminal justice system. Ultimately, punishments keep ratcheting up despite costs because it is politically popular to be “tough on crime.”

    2. NFL careers are very short and competitive. Even short suspensions can have a big affect on a player’s career path.

    3. The legal process is slow. It is rare for a legal case to go away quickly. Sometimes it can happen, but the majority of cases do not come to a final disposition for a long time. This sometimes makes people angry to have to wait for that process to be over before discipline is effectuated. If you want to punish players up through the time they are found innocent, you are actually punishing them because the legal system is slow.

    4. Problems with disciplining by act versus looking at other factors. In the criminal justice system, there are many factors that are looked at when assessing punishment, not just the crime itself. There is some discussion of a one-size-fits all approach to all NFL domestic violence situations. Things that are looked at in the criminal justice system often involve victim impact and statements, remorse of the defendant, exact nature of crime, whether someone is a first time offender, whether they have done positive things for the community, etc. Those are things that fair people look at for fair results but I’m not sure that fairness comes into play with sports league sanctions.

    5. Competition issues. There’s some discussion that the NFL went easier on Ray Rice at first because they were trying to get him back on the field to benefit the Ravens. I don’t believe that. I believe the original media reports that the commissioner listened to the “impassioned plea” of Janay Rice and believed the couple was trying to get help.

    In any event, currently the NFL commissioner is the judge, jury, appeals court in discipline issues. Fans (or maybe teams) may think that the commissioner favors one team over another based on case-by-case discipline. But if there is a one-size-fits all approach, the league runs the risk of punishing all players the same, even in very dissimilar situations.

    6. The perils of disciplining based on arrests and not final disposition. As I’ve written before, there’s significant fairness issues with the NFL disciplining players based on just arrests and not convictions. These are not technically-speaking “due process” issues like what the government needs to provide, but the concept is similar. NFL teams are only constricted by the terms of their collectively bargained arrangement with players, but can cut players any time they want and take the contract and salary cap consequences.
    For private employers, there can be significant problems firing employees based on just arrests which is an involved topic far beyond the scope of this.

    But in terms of fairness, and specifically as it relates to the NFL, disciplining based on arrests can be problematic.

    Wrongful arrests happen all the time. Scare you to your bones kind of situations. You often don’t hear about them because sometimes the lawyers are able to make those go away in a sensible way.

    Police officers have a difficult job because they have to sort out strangers’ tense situations in a quick manner and from their perceptions. It is not uncommon for wrongful arrests to happen for potentially racial reasons.
    In addition, any time you are dealing with high-income, high profile individuals and high stakes, there are always concerns about extortion and individuals looking to profit. That is what Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is claiming in his sexual assault civil matter.

    What I know is this. Rarely do public reports of high profile legal matters have a complete reporting of the facts. Part of that is the nature of legal matters, which often have confidentiality complications.
    Ethically, there are limits on what lawyers are supposed to say publicly in criminal matters. In high profile cases, there are sometimes people who are incentivized, for whatever reasons, to release one side of a situation.

    I don’t know what the answers to these issues are but because of what I’ve seen, I’d be very reluctant for a league to embrace a policy that punishes players just on the basis of arrests except for very extreme circumstances.

    7. The NFL has a CBA that limits (or should limit) some of their options. Employers who deal with unions have agreements that govern the terms of employment. In the NFL, the players collectively bargained these terms. There are significant antitrust questions if the NFL tries to unilaterally change the terms of the NFL conduct policy. In addition, as I understand it, there are restrictions on the use of extended deactivation of a player.

    8. Be careful letting crisis dictate policy. When bad situations happen, companies and governments tend to cobble together policies to deal with that particular situation. Very reactive.

    But when you make a policy, you need to think of all the future situations, and not just the ones in front of you. Being over-reactive can lead to unintended consequences and unfair results.

    And once a league or a government takes what is perceived as a tough stance, it is hard for them to relax it later for fairness reasons because that can be seen as soft.

    9. Shame is also punishment. Punishment happens even without criminal convictions. The process of dealing with the legal system is harsh and expensive. And for high-profile players accused of crimes, they have to go through the rest of their lives with the stigma of their accusation. Whatever the criminal justice system does or leagues do, harshly or not, that will always remain. They have to live with the worst moments of their lives and know that everyone they deal with knows about it. Not saying you need to feel sorry for that, but I am just saying that is also a significant and lasting component of punishment.

    Conclusion:
    So, I don’t think there are any easy answers to NFL player misconduct issues. Anyone that suggests there are easy answers likely doesn’t know what they don’t know.

    Maybe they will bring in former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to clean up this mess too, like he did with Bountygate.

    I am not jealous of the league and teams trying to figure this out. You can already see that they feel very uncomfortable handling it, as most employers would. They are football people and not reformers of social policy.

    What is lost in this discussion is that the vast majority of NFL players are a lot more disciplined in their twenties and thirties than most people are at any age. And that, demographically, they commit fewer crimes than non-players their ages and certainly do more charitable acts.

    The American legal system is certainly not perfect, but I trust them to do the right thing more than league PR reactions to mob snap judgments. The league struggles enough with fairly enforcing rule violations on the playing field.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 17, 2014 at 3:29 PM
  2. soulman

    soulman Pro-Bowler SuperFan DBS Writer

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    Emotions are running hot right now as a number of very high profile NFL players have been involved in off field activities that have brought about criminal charges. The NFL is seen as struggling with how to handle these situations and the individual teams involved are making somewhat of a mess of it too.

    As fans we're all beginning to form our own opinions but I caution that many of our opinions are formed by what we read or hear in the media. I don't think there is a soul among us us who won't admit that such reports are often lacking in complete information and therefore slanted. The role of the media is not to be fair but rather to sell it's product to the masses.

    I came across this article by an attorney in Texas and in it she attempts to explain the general complexities involved in these offenses. It is neither a defense of the NFL or of the players themselves but simply and explanation from a legal professionals point of view of what each of those parties involved are facing. Once you take the emotions away these are not cut and dried deals at all.

    I thought that I would share it because in reading through it I was prompted to pause and digest all of what this attorney is saying. The gist of it is that there really is no "one size fits" all" punishment that the NFL can legitimately dole out just as there is no "one size fits all" punishments which the court can dole out. Each situation is unique unto itself therefore it's difficult to apply standardized punishments no matter how much the NFL would like to ease their burdens by doing so.

    Much of what is talking place at the moment is coming about due to fan pressures but even more so it's being brought about by the pressures brought by team and/or league sponsors who are in affect blackmailing teams into decisions by withdrawing that sponsorship as in the case of the Vikings and Adrian Peterson. That approach in itself is hardly a just way to ensure fairness to a player.

    This is a pretty gnarly situation the NFL is dealing with at the moment. In real life the accused is presumed innocent until they either plead to the crime or are found guilty by a jury of their peers yet the public is calling for justice for the victims before it can even be determined that a crime took place. On top of that in the Ray Rice case his wife pleaded that he not be punished in the manner he has been and it would appear that was initially taken into consideration when his two games suspension was handed out.

    I'm not advocating one way or the other in any if these situations but rather posting an article I believe that every fan should read and digest before forming their opinions. This is not as easy to deal with as it would seem on the surface. It requires some thought on the part of all concerned including the fans whose opinions and pressure the league does respond to at times. Just not always in the way we would hope or expect.

    Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts about this and comment as you like. I think this lady has covered this topic very well but some of you may feel otherwise. I'm not defending the actions of these players but I am looking at things just a bit differently than I did before I read this blog.
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  3. 4dabers

    4dabers Veteran DBS Writer

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    Good share and good opinion piece on your part. I've read her comments and I've read yours. There is a lot here so I may have missed some things.

    When you break ALL of this down, I think it comes down to punishment. Like you point out, it can't be a "one size fits all" thing and its going to get hairy if they try to make it so. I think the NFL has created a bit of it's own monster by taking on the responsibility of punishing players outside of the justice system, but at the same time, I think our society is pushing things that way. People see these athletes making more money than they EVER have before and they see them living extravagantly, driving Lambo's, living in mansions, and then getting into trouble. The average Joe (and Joellen) looks at that and thinks "ya know, I don't make a fraction of what you make and I don't have to beat my wife, I don't whip my kid with belts and sticks, I don't do drugs and carry 5 guns in my car". So the average person looks at these players and thinks "I don't have near the advantages that YOU have; you wouldn't give me the time of day and yet YOU can't manage to obey the law?" Then they see them "getting off" sometimes by paying for things to go away. Then they are expected to cheer for these guys on Sunday? I think the league understands that if they want to maintain credibility as a legitimate organization, then they have to step up and keep their players "cleaner". So yea, it's all about PR

    OK, so what if it is all about PR? You suggest that it's blackmail for the sponsors to threaten to pull sponsorship. Not really. No more than consumers using a boycot against a company. If I'm supporting a charity on a monthly basis and I find out the charity is doing things that I don't like, I'll pull my donations. Is that blackmail? Nope. One think I would like to know; what is the difference between this (Rice and Peterson suspensions) and a CEO being fired because a video pops up showing him kicking a dog in an elevator, or a CEO of a company being let go because he makes a political statement that the Board of Directors thought would offend their customer base. How about in the NBA when owners may "say" something that people find offensive and they literally have their team taken away from them. The difference is, in the latter scenarios, no other person was physically injured. AP BEAT a child/children (and lets don't confuse what he did with a hand swat on the butt, two COMPLETELY different things), and Rice knocked his wife OUT.

    Honestly, I don't know how the league just ignores this stuff. They HAVE to take a stand if they know about it. I don't expect them to have eyes on the players at all times, but if it comes up and the issue is serious enough, then they should be gone. If it happens to a Bears star, well so be it. A dirtbag POS is a dirtbag POS.
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  4. soulman

    soulman Pro-Bowler SuperFan DBS Writer

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    Thank you brother. It just disturbs me when I see these teams becoming victims of corporate blackmail by their sponsors. I realize it's a business decision the teams are making but it detracts mightily from the sport.

    Once sponsors and other deep pockets realize they can impact team decision in this way where does it stop? If a major sponsor can get the Vikes to suspend AP it's not a huge jump to them insisting other players or a coach be let go either. They're just more upfront about it in this case because it benefits them to do so.

    What happens when it isn't and they threaten to withdraw stadium advertising and sponsorship or cancel their luxury boxes unless the team responds to their coercion? This may seem like a stretch but is it really? The Vikes could have said that AP was too important to the team to suspend based only on his arrest and that they would allow the legal process to run it's course before acting.

    Look at this shit today with this female bitch attorney bringing up shit about Marshall that took place in 2006 and that he was EXONERATED OF! She wants to say Goddell covered it up and didn't respond. The fuck he didn't. He suspended him for three games and then rescinded the second two when Marshall was found not guilty.

    It's ancient history and yet just because this she bitch needs to have some relevancy again and DV among NFL stars is a hot topic the media gives it to her. Fuck all of them and their God Damn witch hunts. We have a legal system in place to deal with this and DV cases can be Fast Tracked here in Colorado and gotten to court very quickly. Other states may have that as well.

    Let the courts decide a player innocence or guilt and THEN assign they appropriate punishment at the NFL level including a lifetime suspension if it fits the crime. But this on again off again shit with outside parties calling the shots by waving their checkbooks around sucks.


    EDIT: Just thought of one more things I should add to this. When you bring up the examples you do about you or the public in general not supporting a corporation or a charity because of some malfeasance that's not blackmail. It's simply consumers exercising their right to choose. Now if you were a major contributor to a charity or it's single biggest contributor and you threatened to stop all contributions because of something the executive director did or said that you disagreed with or caused embarrassment then I would maintain that IS corporate blackmail. One individual or even a small group exercising power in that manner without due process is most certainly a form of blackmail or extortion.

    We're also talking about a professional sport here not a Popsicle or Hershey Bar company. It's a very short step from using this type of behavior to influence personnel decisions to also influence the out come of games. If Goddell had any balls as a Commissioner he would resist this but we all know he doesn't so this is what we get. In affect losing AP will most definitely influence the outcome of any game the Vikes play this year. I understand the thought process but it's wrong.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2014 at 3:42 PM

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