The league’s aggressive enforcement of the personal conduct policy in recent years has glossed over the fact that, even though NFL teams are paying players only for three hours on 17 Sundays, practice sessions during the week, training camp, and mandatory offseason workouts, the new who play pro football are full-time, ’round-the-clock representatives of the league.
For the men who play the game, the shield has become less of a patch on their jerseys and more of a tattoo on their foreheads. No matter what, no matter where, in season or out of season, anything that a players does can and will be used against him by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
This attitude has created an expectation by the league that, even during a league-imposed work stoppage, the players still must conduct themselves in a manner that won’t embarrass an employer that refuses to employ them. It’s ludicrous. It’s offensive. And it’s wrong.
Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com, in a column the league privately is applauding given that it supports what the league wants to do, makes the case for holding players accountable for getting locked up during the lockout. Doyel believes that, even if the punishment won’t hold up in court later, the league should still impose discipline against the men who have been arrested during the lockout.
But Doyel overlooks one very important point. The question of whether the league will punish players for misbehavior during the lockout won’t be resolved in court later. It will have been resolved during labor negotiations before the lockout even ends.
Though the issue has yet to be mentioned in media reports that recite the disputes that have been resolved and/or list the topics that are still lingering, the question of whether the NFL will be permitted to apply the personal conduct policy during the lockout surely is a subject that will be (and likely already has been) addressed and settled during the negotiations that nearly have culminated in a new labor deal. One source with general knowledge of the dynamics recently suggested that Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith already have come to an understanding on the point.
But we’ll have trouble understanding any understanding that allows the NFL to punish players for arrests occurring during the lockout. Indeed, a decision by the NFLPA* to expose players retroactively to responsibility for violations of the personal conduct policy could open the door for a fairly potent lawsuit alleging breach of the duty of fair representation, which could open a fairly significant can of worms given that the labor deal will have been negotiated at a time when, technically, the NFLPA* has the power to represent no one.
It’s not like the guys who have been arrested since March 12 will be getting away with anything; NFL players who run afoul of the law already are held accountable by the legal system, by the media, and by the fans. But it would be a major surprise — and it could create a major problem — if the NFL has the ability to punish the 22 men who have been arrested since the NFL slammed the doors and locked them.