Last week, a short couple of days after the Denver Broncos’ victory in Super Bowl 50, the NFL passed a ruling that bars any player with convictions related to sexual assault, domestic violence, or weapons charges from attending/participating in the NFL’s annual Veteran Combine. While on paper this seems like an incredibly savvy move from the league, it essentially means nothing; nothing more than a moot point, and here’s why.
The NFL has always had a somewhat recurring problem in regards to players getting involved in off the field issues; it essentially comes with the territory of being a major sport. You see it in basketball, baseball, and even hockey. However, over the past few years, the issues within the NFL have gotten worse, particularly in regards to domestic violence, assault, and weapons charges; the three aforementioned crimes that now bar players from participating in the Veteran Combine. I personally cannot state where it began; heck, it may just be the development of our technology that provides up to the second reporting, however, the first major case I remember in regards to these three crimes is Plaxico Burress’ 2008 arrest for a weapons charge in which he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a nightclub.
After that, if you look through the record books, the names get bigger, and so do the charges:
-Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones accused of hitting a women in a nightclub in 2008.
-Courtney Upshaw in 2009, charged with domestic violence against his then girlfriend.
-Terrell Suggs, accused in 2009 of throwing a soap dispenser at his girlfriend, and then accused of domestic violence in 2012.
-Dez Bryant, accused of domestic violence against his mother in 2012.
-Greg Hardy, arrested for domestic violence in 2014, charges were dropped when the witness (his then girlfriend) didn’t show up to the appeal.
-Ray Rice, accused of aggravated assault against his girlfriend in 2014.
-Johnny Manziel, accused of assaulting his girlfriend less than a month ago.
There’s clearly a consistent issue amongst the NFL in regards to domestic violence and other charges. Sadly, this list is not exhaustive. The multiple examples I named were only those involving big name stars. There are countless other cases involving low level journeyman players within the league. The fact that I could, off the top of my head, name multiple assault cases involving an NFL player for each year in nearly the past 10 years is a problem. It’s a problem because the NFL clearly is not forming a large enough deterrent to discourage this behavior.
You may have noted that I didn’t include the cases of Adrian Peterson’s child abuse case or Aaron Hernandez’ murder case in the list above. The reasoning behind that is simply that the NFL took action in regards to those cases, with Peterson serving a one year suspension. The league has not technically suspended Hernandez, but that’s most likely to save them some paperwork, as he’s been convicted of murder and will be spending the rest of his life behind bars. Even if he were to get out on some miraculous loophole, the NFL would almost certainly take action and no team would even think of signing him.
Back to the general point, out of the players mentioned in list of crimes provided above, only three were actually suspended by the league for the crimes accusations. Granted, our country does believe in “innocent until proven guilty” which makes it completely understandable that some of them weren’t suspended, as they were never convicted. However, that has never impacted a team’s ability to suspend a player for “conduct detrimental to the team” or for “violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.” So the need for a player to actually be convicted in order to suspend them under certain pretenses is an absurd statement. Furthermore, the league poorly handled the suspension cases of players who were in fact convicted and/or had clear evidence of their wrongdoings.
For example, one could look at the case of Ray Rice. A household name and all-pro running back, Rice was accused accused of domestic violence against his girlfriend in an Atlantic City casino, eventually indicted on aggravated assault charges. The league initially decided that a two game suspension would suffice for his wrongdoings. Let me put this into perspective for you: in the real world, domestic violence carries a 3-5 year jail sentence. The charges were dropped when Rice agreed to undergo court supervised counseling. The NFL decided to make his suspension indefinite, but only after a TMZ released a video of the assault. He was subsequently reinstated two months later after winning his appeal.
Unfortunately, weak and inconsistent punishments doled out by the NFL are nothing new and it doesn’t seem like they will change any time soon. The reason I say this is because of Greg Hardy. Convicted of domestic assault, with massive amount of evidence to back it up, the Cowboys defensive end was somehow able to play week one of that season before being placed on the “Commissioner’s Exempt List.” He was still allowed him to maintain his salary of over $13 million, even after his conviction. Charges against Hardy were then dismissed on the appeal after the accuser, his ex-girlfriend, failed to appear at trial. In April of 2015, Hardy was suspended without pay for the first ten games of the 2015 season, however, the suspension was reduced to four games after appeal. Four games. For a sexual assault conviction where charges were dropped on the appeal because the abused accuser couldn’t make it her court appearance. Consistency folks. No matter the amount of incriminating evidence, a player can still whittle his suspension down to nothing with a couple appeals. One rule regarding the Veteran Combine isn’t going to change that.
The NFL Veteran Combine has existed for less than a year. It literally was not a thing until last March, when the NFL determined veterans a more effective way to showcase their talents. That is why the NFL’s new ruling doesn’t mean anything. All they’re saying is that if you have convictions in those three areas, which have given the NFL an ENORMOUS black eye over the past few years, then you can simply go back to being a free agent and handle it how you would have last offseason. It’s just taking away an average opportunity that wasn’t even available less than 365 days ago.
In a country where football is king, the NFL has the ability to set a precedent for all other companies, in regards to setting standards for their employees and their conduct. However, it has proven time and time again that it is unable to do so and this meaningless new rule will do nothing to change that. Consistency folks.