Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he doesn’t want a third-party to be able to review his decisions under the personal conduct policy because he doesn’t want to entrust the NFL brand to an outsider. Perhaps the more accurate assessment is that Goodell wants to be able to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, without concern for the kind of consistency that a quasi-judicial panel would attempt to weave into the broader process of assessing the accuracy of Goodell’s decisions.
Indeed, if consistency means anything, Patriots defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth would be at least suspended for pleading no contest to simple assault, given that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games (reduced to four) despite never being arrested or charged with any crime, in his life.
Consistency, for now, means nothing. According to ESPN, Haynesworth won’t be suspended.
Then again, it’s possible that the NFL has investigated the charges against Haynesworth, and that the NFL has concluded that he truly isn’t guilty. Under the law of the jurisdiction where the alleged incident occurred, Haynesworth’s lawyer wasn’t going to get a chance to apply the Chewbacca defense on a jury. Instead, the case was going to be tried to a judge. Thus, even if the judge had barred from evidence the inflammatory things Haynesworth allegedly said to police or the allegations of an attempt to settle with the alleged victim, the person making the final decision as to innocence or guilt would have known about it.
That said, the prosecution’s case apparently had some holes. In fact, we’ve heard that the authorities were surprised that a grand jury even indicted Haynesworth in the first place.
So if the league has utilized its security department to investigate the situation, the league possibly (key word: possibly) has concluded that, despite Haynesworth’s past issues, there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that he did anything wrong in this case.
Finally, don’t discount the possibility that Haynesworth’s lawyers worked the back channels in order to get a feel for the theoretical impact of a no contest plea on Haynesworth’s employment. Though the league routinely refuses to provide any official information regarding the potential consequences of the outcome of a case, it would be naive to assume that hypothetical discussions don’t happen — especially if there’s a way to handle a case in a manner that minimizes P.R. fallout.
Here, Hayneworth’s decision to cop a plea avoided several days of media coverage of a trial of a high-profile NFL player. Given that personal conduct policy ultimately is aimed at protecting the shield, a player’s decision to handle his business in a way that advances that outcome should be welcomed by the league.