NFL Personal Conduct Policy: Strong Discipline or a Slap on the Wrist?


ray rice pic
Bryan Felix ’15
What does drunk driving, assault (both sexual and otherwise) and domestic violence all have in common other than being chargeable crimes? They all fall under the NFL’s old Personal Conduct Policy. A policy that almost never gave a suspension over 4 or 5 games and merely gave fines that were the equivalent to pocket change for professional athletes. Its odd to group a series of crimes that usually warrant several years in prison and multiple other penalties with the same amount of disciplinary response that is equitable to telling a child to sit in timeout. Adversely what does steroid use, drug abuse, and gambling have in common? These offenses most commonly are given suspensions in the NFL that range from 7 games all the way to being banned from the league. While first time offenses can be as low as 4 to 5 games, multiple substance abuse cases warrants a much more stringent response. So just as the Personal Conduct Policy in the NFL seems to underestimate the punishment for serious crimes, the Substance Abuse Policy gives out punishment that is far more than the legal response.
Now many have asked recently: How does this make sense? Well, in many ways, it doesn’t. I will particularly cite the example of Josh Gordon recently and how after failing a drug test 3 times, he gets a 16 game suspension for the entire season. In contrast, Ray Rice was only going to receive a 2 game suspension after being charged with domestic abuse before all the controversy came to light.  Also consider Ben Roethlesberger who only got 4 games for clear evidence of sexual assault while Cowboys DL Josh Brent got 10 games for driving drunk, resulting in a crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown. In such a violent sport, violence outside the field is seemingly unmoderated.
To me, this is absurd and morally wrong of the NFL. When the league’s policy makes it so that players can legally play before he gets released from jail (Michael Vick- 2 games) then there  must be a problem in their response! However, I do understand why the NFL does this. While one might not think so, gambling, and substance abuse has a much bigger effect on the sport itself and the guidelines the NFL must comply to more than off the field violence. Meanwhile, having an issue that has no connection with the league at all is bad but does not put the NFL at risk, and thus is not as harshly penalized. While this idea is immoral, it is what has worked for the NFL in the past and has only come under fire once the Rice video conspiracy had been revealed in the past few months .
The NFL has recently revised its policies that has reportedly better balanced the response to criminal activity accordingly to the severity of the crime. While this has immediately shortened the Gordon suspension to 10 games and the Rice suspension indefinitely, I still suspect that not much will change further into the future once the public outcry dies down from this pre-season’s drama.