09/17/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak
Adrian Peterson. Ray Rice. Wes Welker. Josh Gordon. Sounds like a pretty good fantasy football roster. Except there's nothing fantastic about why they're being mentioned here.
They are all examples of NFL players whose off the field antics have led to suspensions, arrests, and have brought a major black eye to the most successful professional sports league in the world. The time has come for the NFL to realize this is getting out of control.
Some 39 NFL players were suspended before the start of the 2014 season for various reasons. There seem to be more suspensions each year for violations of the leagues substance abuse policy. Welker and Gordon were suspended for just that. Welker originally was given a four game suspension, while Gordon was suspended for the entire season for his second violation in the last two seasons. However with recently approved changes to the NFL's drug policy, Welker has been reinstated after missing the first two games of the season while Gordon's suspension has been reduced to 10 games. Not exactly the message the NFL needs to send in regards to discipline when the original penalties are being reduced.
But Gordon and Welker's issues are minor when compared to Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. Peterson was indicted last week after being charged with reckless or negligent injury to a child after beating his 4 year old son with a tree branch. The Minnesota Vikings deactivated Peterson this past weekend but have reinstated him for Week 3. And of course everyone is aware of the Ray Rice situation. Rice originally was suspended two games by the NFL after video showed him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator. Rice was suspended indefinitely last week after video from inside the elevator showed Rice actually punching his fiancée in the face, knocking her out.
What kind of message does all of this send about the NFL?
First, how can violation of the leagues substance abuse policy carry a stiffer penalty than hitting a woman? Had the video from inside the elevator not surfaced, Ray Rice would be playing this weekend. But since the disturbing video of Rice actually striking his fiancée came with such backlash, the NFL decided it had to take action. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claims he never saw the video from inside the elevator. That same claim was backed by officials of the Baltimore Ravens who said the same thing.
Why did we need to see the video of Rice actually hitting his fiancée for this action to be taken? It was pretty obvious what happened from the first video. But Goodell gave Rice a slap on the wrist basically for domestic violence. The indefinite suspension issued after the second video reeks of the NFL going into damage control mode.
Let's add to this list Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panther, who was convicted in July of choking and threating to kill his ex girlfriend, and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers who was arrested for domestic violence days after the NFL introduced a tougher domestic violence policy due to the uproar of Rice originally being suspended for just two games. McDonald has played in both of the 49ers games this season, while Hardy played in the Panthers opener before being deactivated last week.
We'll hold off on going any further with the Peterson situation until the case actually plays out. But no matter the outcome, since Peterson did admit he beat his son with a "switch", this is a huge blemish on the NFL's image. What all of this seems to show is that no matter what you do off the field, as long as you can get it done on the field, you can play in the NFL.
There is a huge problem here that needs to be dealt with right now. The NFL has built itself into an almost untouchable professional sports empire. But there is one thing that can destroy what the NFL brand has been built up to be the NFL itself. When Sunday's are filled with more talk about domestic violence, criminal charges, and off the field issues than game previews and discussion about what's going to happen on the field that day, there is a big issue.
The NFL is showing itself to the casual fan as being a league where crime is OK, as long as you can play.
Does Roger Goodell and the NFL see itself as being bigger than the legal system in this country? Are Goodell and the NFL brash enough to believe that no matter what kind of trouble players are getting into off the field, the fans will continue to support the product on the field?
That's the message that's being sent right now. And whether Goodell or the NFL wants to believe it, the mighty empire they have built is losing its popularity because of these incidents, and if it's not addressed will continue to lose more. Remember, there was a time when Major League Baseball was "America's Past Time", the most popular sport in the USA, until it started to ruin it's own image with a players strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series and of course the steroids scandal that pretty much tainted the rest of the 1990's. If the NFL doesn't address the severity of these incidents and handle them with the proper discipline to eliminate these problems now, the time where the NFL is "America's Game" could soon become a past time.
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