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Should The NFL Punish Players For Things They Did During The NFL Lockout?

Submitted by on July 29, 2011 – 9:36 amOne Comment

During the NFL lockout, Hines Ward got arrested on a DUI charge. Cedric Benson got arrested for allegedly beating up his roomate. And Adam “Pacman” Jones found himself behind bars—again!—after getting into an altercation with police outside a bar. So, what do all three of them have in common? None of them want to be punished by the NFL now that the lockout is over.

Over the course of the last few years, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made a point of fining and suspending players for off-the-field issues involving bad conduct. When he was first appointed NFL Commissioner, one of the first things he wanted to do was clean up the image of the league by penalizing players harshly for misconduct off the football field, with the hopes of making players think twice before they engaged in any bad behavior while they were affiliated with the NFL. And, for the most part, the league has done a good job of patrolling its’ players—even if some of the fines and suspensions that have been handed down by Goodell have been a little bit of the harsh side.

However, Goodell and the NFL are facing an interesting new wrinkle in the league’s conduct policy. Namely, how they should treat players who misbehaved during the NFL lockout when the league had no jurisdiction over the players and couldn’t tell them what to do? For their part, the players and the NFL Players Association feel as though guys like Ward, Benson, and Jones shouldn’t face any penalties because of their troubles during the lockout.

“Our view and our stance has been our players were unemployed, they didn’t work for the NFL for the last five, six months,” NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae said recently. “So we would hope and argue that our guys start with a clean slate…Obviously it would be unfortunate if our guys got suspended right off the bat because the commissioner decides unilaterally to make that decision. But at the end of the day, our guys weren’t working for the NFL at that time. Our view is that we’ll have to discuss it and see where we go from there.”

So, where do they go from here? On the one hand, you’ve got a small group of guys who faced legal problems during the lockout and, because of their affiliation with the NFL, made the league look bad. Most of their legal troubles aren’t over, either, as their cases will drag into the start of the 2011 NFL season and continue to make headlines. And in that regard, we could see why the NFL would want to penalize these players for dragging the league’s name through the mud through their individual troubles. You could also make the case that, despite the NFL lockout, these players were still affiliated with the league at the time of their transgressions and, therefore, they should face the consequences of their actions.

However, Mawae is correct when he says that, technically, players were not being policed by the NFL when they ran amok and therefore they should not face any discipline from the league. Because of the NFL lockout, the league basically distanced itself from all players over the last four months and didn’t consider them affiliates of the NFL. And in that regard, it doesn’t make much sense to penalize players who faced legal issues because the NFL had nothing to do with them at the time. So, which side is right?

Well, let’s look at this situation like this. Let’s say the relationship between the NFL and the NFL players was an actual relationship. Four months ago, the league broke up with the players and, in the time between then and now, the players have done things that they might not necessarily have done if they were still together with the league. But they happened. Now, the league and the players have gotten back together and the league is upset because it’s heard about all the things the players were doing when they were broken up. But, is it really fair for the league to chastise the players for things they did when they weren’t in bed with the league? Eh, we have a hard time saying yes to that.

So in that regard, we have to side with the players here. We’re not condoning what guys like Ward, Benson, and Jones did. Not by any means. But we don’t think that it’s right for the NFL to be retroactive in punishing their players for their actions during the lockout. These three players and any other player who would normally face disciplinary action from the league should be given a clean slate and allowed to fight their legal battles outside the jurisdiction of the NFL. It’s not an easy decision to make, but if the league wants to maintain any kind of a healthy relationship with its’ players moving forward, it’s the right one to make.

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