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ESPN’s NFL popularity poll doesn’t really tell us much

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Once again, a sampling of a small slice of America is being interpreted broadly and expansively to reflect the attitudes of the millions of folks who inhabit this great nation of ours.

This time, ESPN has declared that America’s team still is America’s team, with 8.8 percent of the country making the Dallas Cowboys their favorite pro football franchise.

As usual, however, the devil has built a duplex in the details.  For starters, there’s no mention of the margin for error arising from assuming that the views of 1,500 can be extrapolated to more than 313 million.  With the top five teams separated by only two percentage points, that’s a fairly critical wrinkle.

Perhaps even more importantly, the truth is that the Cowboys came in second.  Behind “pass.”

That’s right.  A full 10.3 percent of the 1,500 people polled didn’t indicate a favorite team.

So all we really know is that 132 people in America are Cowboys fans.  And that 150 people in America don’t have a favorite NFL team.

Of course, that information wouldn’t create the kind of headline that would drive traffic to

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Rob Gronkowski, LeGarrette Blount fined $9,115 each

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots argues with members of the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter of a game at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images) Getty Images

The biggest fine to come out of last Sunday’s Patriots victory over the Bengals was the $75,000 penalty levied on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict for stepping on Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount’s leg.

That wasn’t the only fine for a player in that game and Blount was among the other players penalized by the league. PFT has confirmed with the league that Blount received a $9,115 fine for an unnecessary roughness penalty he received after getting stepped on by Burfict. Blount reacted by shoving Burfict and getting into it with Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was also fined $9,115 after being flagged for taunting in the fourth quarter. The flag came at the end of the second of two straight catches by Gronkowski that ended with him barking at members of the Bengals, including Burfict, before getting barked at by Bill Belichick.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick rounds out the list of fine recipients. Kirkpatrick picked up the same $9,115 for grabbing Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman’s facemask during a tackle.

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Suh not fined for alleged kick on Roethlisberger

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Ndamukong Suh #93 of the Miami Dolphins looks on before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was not fined for what the Steelers felt was a kick on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in last week’s game, PFT has confirmed.

Suh was rushing Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers reportedly filed a formal complaint with the NFL because they believed Suh intentionally kicked Roethlisberger.

The league office apparently disagreed with the Steelers’ view of things, and Suh wasn’t fined.

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NFL plans to investigate Josh Brown based on “other incidents of abuse”

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The NFL officially has placed Giants kicker Josh Brown on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt list based on information that came to light earlier this week. The text of the letter from senior V.P. of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch to Brown makes it clear that Brown is now being investigated for “other incidents of abuse separate from the May 22, 2015 incident for which you were disciplined under the Personal Conduct Policy.”

The move, which essentially suspends Brown with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, is a precursor to an eventual, inevitable suspension of Brown without pay for Personal Conduct Policy violation(s) arising from the conduct explained in the materials released by the King County (Washington) Sheriff following the official conclusion of the investigation of the May 2015 incident.

And so Brown will be prevented from working indefinitely (while getting paid) before eventually absorbing another suspension for, as he possibly will argue, conduct about which the league knew or should have known. Brown’s case could be bolstered by Thursday’s comments from Giants co-owner John Mara, who said a day after the release of materials reflecting other potential incidents of abuse that Brown had been honest with the team and that the Giants knew Brown had engaged in domestic violence. Thus, Brown can — and should — argue that he already has been punished once for the conduct for which he is now on the Commissioner-Exempt list.

Whether that argument has any success remains to be seen. Armed with recent federal appeals court rulings from cases against Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson, the league has the blueprint for doing whatever it wants to do to Brown. As long as Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t delegate the internal appeals process to a truly neutral arbitrator (like he did when the league tried to suspend Ray Rice a second time for allegedly lying to the league during his original internal appeals process), the league likely will prevail in its effort to suspend Josh Brown a second time — absent any smoking-gun admissions from the league or the team that Brown’s initial suspension was intended to be comprehensive. (Mara’s comments already could be that smoking gun, frankly.)

No matter how wrong and despicable his conduct may have been, Brown has rights. By bungling the case in the first instance via the failure to acquire information needed to reach an informed decision and/or an inexplicable refusal to wait for the investigation to end before imposing discipline, the league has put the union and anyone interested in the fair treatment of all players in the unenviable task of having to defend Brown.

Maybe that’s how the league decided to handle the case if/when the truth ever came out. Instead of admitting that they should have known more before suspending Brown for only one game, the league can now deflect criticism by pivoting back toward the man many will agree is the real culprit for more discipline.

Regardless of whether it’s supposed to work that way (and it’s not), the league and the Giants will now try to avoid any and all scrutiny or criticism of its flawed investigation by doing to Brown now what should have been done months ago.

Specifically, Brown should have been placed on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list pending the outcome of the investigation in King’s County, which would have ensured that the investigation didn’t fall into a black hole for more than a year, and which in turn would have resulted in the information that was released Wednesday coming to light many months ago.

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Another big fine for Odell Beckham

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants looks on in the fourth Quarter against the Washington Redskins during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 25, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Another week, another instance of Giants receiver Odell Beckham getting fined by the NFL.

This time Beckham was fined $24,309 for unsportsmanlike conduct. Beckham was flagged 15 yards after scoring the game-winning touchdown on Sunday because he took his helmet off in celebration.

The NFL is taking things too far when it comes to cracking down on celebrations, and it seems rather silly that Beckham is fined more for taking his helmet off than players are often fined for serious penalties that could injure an opponent.

On the other hand, every NFL player knows the rules say you can’t take your helmet off during a celebration, and Beckham still hasn’t learned his lesson. Beckham has also been fined this year for a touchdown dance, for taunting an opponent, and for a blindside hit. Eventually, he’s going to have to learn to tone it down. But he hasn’t learned yet.

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Joe Flacco questionable for Sunday

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 22: Quarterback  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens stands next to Justin Forsett #29 during the first half against the St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco returned to practice Friday after missing two days with a right shoulder issue, but the team isn’t ready to say he’ll definitely be playing against the Jets this weekend.

Flacco has been listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium, which is also where Flacco hurt the shoulder during last week’s loss to the Giants. Coach John Harbaugh said it was “encouraging” to see Flacco on the field, but that he wasn’t “putting any labels” on the likelihood that the quarterback will play.

“We will see,” Harbaugh said at his Friday press conference. “We will see how he responds tomorrow. He is out there running around a little bit and throwing the ball a little bit. We will see what happens.”

Ryan Mallett would start in the event Flacco can’t play. The Ravens don’t have a third quarterback on their 53-man roster, but do have David Fales on their practice squad.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receiver Steve Smith, cornerback Shareece Wright and guard Marshal Yanda are all listed as doubtful after missing practice all week. Safety Kendrick Lewis has the same designation after missing Friday’s practice.

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Bills activate Shaq Lawson

Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson (90) takes part in drills during their NFL football rookie minicamp in Orchard Park, N.Y., Friday, May 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert) AP

The Bills have activated rookie pass rusher Shaq Lawson from their physically unable to perform list.

Lawson suffered a shoulder injury during rookie minicamp last spring that required surgery and forced him to miss all of training camp and the preseason.

Lawson, the Bills’ first-round pick last spring, told reporters he’s “completely healthy” and Bills coach Rex Ryan said Lawson has been “flying around” and will be active for Sunday’s game at Miami.

The Bills also made some other moves. Tight end Manasseh Garner was called up from the practice squad, while tight end Gerald Christian and guard Gabe Ikard were released. Garner could play some fullback on Sunday because veteran fullback Jerome Felton is questionable due to a back injury.

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Full text of NFL’s letter to Josh Brown regarding Commissioner’s exempt list

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28: Roger Goodell announces a draft pick during the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theater on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL announced on Friday that Giants kicker Josh Brown has been placed on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt list pending their review of material relased by the King County (WA) Sheriff’s Office regarding their investigation into allegations that Brown abused his ex-wife.

The full text of the letter from NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Policy and League Affairs Adolpho Birch informing Brown of the decision appears below.

“Dear Mr. Brown:

On October 19, the King County (WA) Sheriff’s Office announced publicly that it had closed its investigation in connection with the May 22, 2015 altercation between you and your former wife, Molly Brown. As part of its report, the Sheriff’s Office released a volume of documents from its investigation, including in particular a transcript of Ms. Brown’s interview with law enforcement investigators and numerous e-mails, journal entries and other materials, many of which were reportedly authored by you.

As you may be aware, the NFL made multiple requests of the Sheriff’s Office for any and all pertinent information developed through its investigation. Because the Sheriff’s Office was treating its investigation as an open matter, however, the NFL’s requests were rejected and the materials first became known and available to us at the same time they were released publicly. The released materials appear to contain information regarding other incidents of abuse separate from the May 22, 2015 incident for which you were disciplined under the Personal Conduct Policy. As a result, further investigation by the league into those separate incidents is needed.

Accordingly, this will advise that, pursuant to the Personal Conduct Policy, Commissioner Goodell has placed you on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt list on a limited and temporary basis to permit the league fully to review the materials and determine whether further action is necessary. We expect to conduct this review expeditiously and make any appropriate adjustments to your roster status in a timely manner.

Your placement on Commissioner Exempt does not represent a finding that you have violated the Personal Conduct Policy. Prior to any determination in that respect, you will be given an opportunity to review our investigatory report, meet with the league, and/or present relevant information on your behalf as provided for by the Policy.

While on Commissioner Exempt, you may not practice or attend games, but with club permission you may be present at the club’s facility for meetings, individual workouts, therapy and rehabilitation, and other permitted non-football activities. You will be paid your salary pursuant to the terms of your contract and will continue to participate in all applicable benefit plans for which you otherwise qualify under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. You also will continue to accrue free agency and pension credit pursuant to the terms of the CBA.

You may appeal this decision to place you on Commissioner Exempt by providing written notice to or by fax to xxx xxx xxxx within three business days of receiving this letter. If you appeal, a hearing will be held promptly before the Commissioner or his designee pursuant to Article 46 of the CBA.

The league will soon contact you regarding the other incidents and any additional investigatory steps that must be taken. The NFLPA will be fully advised and your full cooperation is expected and appreciated. In the interim, if you have any questions concerning this matter, you or your representative may contact me at the address or number below.”

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Josh Brown headed to Commissioner’s-Exempt list

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13:  NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell talks on tthe sidelines before the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum during preseason on August 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Rams won 28-24.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants said they weren’t going to turn their back on Josh Brown, but it appears they’re not going to let him kick for them again either.

The NFL has announced that Giants kicker will be placed on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Brown has “kicked his last kick” for the Giants.

Banishing him to the exempt list — as was done with Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson — means he’s on paid leave, while the Giants try to find a way to divorce themselves from an ugly situation.

In documents released this week, Brown admitted years of phsyical and emotional abuse of his then-wife.

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Jamaal Charles questionable with swelling in knee

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes for a four-yard touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on October 16, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chiefs took their time bringing running back Jamaal Charles back from a torn ACL in the early weeks of this season before he returned to the lineup for the last two games.

Charles’ continued immersion back into the lineup has hit a bit of a snag this week. Charles is listed as questionable for Sunday’s home game against the Saints because of some knee swelling that left him as a limited participant in practice.

The extent of the swelling is unknown, but any sign of trouble in Charles’ knee is likely to be taken seriously by the Chiefs given how cautious they were with bringing Charles back into action in the first place.

Spencer Ware has remained the lead back with Charles back in action and that will likely remain the case whether or not Charles is able to go come Sunday. Cornerback Phillip Gaines is also questionable with a knee injury for Kansas City.

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Josh Doctson heads to injured reserve

FILE - In this May 14, 2016 file photo, Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson, 18, works out during NFL football rookie minicamp in Ashburn, Va. Doctson is inching his way back from an Achilles tendon injury, though the Washington Redskins still don’t know when the wide receiver will be ready to practice with the team, let alone play in a game. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) AP

Earlier this week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden ruled rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson out for this Sunday’s game against the Lions and suggested that it might not be until after the team’s Week Nine bye before there was a change in his status.

As it turns out, it will be a lot longer than that. Gruden announced on Friday that Doctson will be placed on injured reserve because of the Achilles injury that the first-round pick suffered in the spring and has limited him to two games this season.

“We saw another specialist, a couple of them now, I think with all the work that we put in we thought it was best to immobilize him for a little bit of time and see if that can help by the time he gets out of the boot,” Gruden said, via the team’s website. “Then he’ll need time to see if he’s ready and hopefully we’ll get him back for the last maybe two games of the year.”

Doctson will be eligible to return to action in Week 15, although, as Gruden said, that’s far from a sure thing given how long Doctson has already been dealing with the injury.

Wide receiver Maurice Harris will be added from the practice squad to fill Doctson’s spot on the roster.

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Steelers rule out DeAngelo Williams, Markus Wheaton, Marcus Gilbert

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 02:  DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter during the game at Heinz Field on October 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won’t be the only key offensive player missing when the Steelers face the Patriots on Sunday.

The team has ruled out three others ahead of the game. Running back DeAngelo Williams, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and right tackle Marcus Gilbert will also miss the game.

Williams has a knee injury and his absence will leave Fitzgerald Toussaint as the backup to Le’Veon Bell. Wheaton has been dealing with a shoulder injury all season and will miss his fourth game of the year while Gilbert will be replaced by Chris Hubbard for the third straight week.

The Steelers ruled out defensive end Cam Heyward earlier this week. Safety Shamarko Thomas will miss a second straight game with a groin injury, which impacts the Steelers more on special teams than on the defensive side of the ball.

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Giants’ Justin Pugh walks back support of teammate Josh Brown

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 01:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants celebrates a touchdown with Justin Pugh #67 during the second quarter of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 1, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants guard Justin Pugh voiced support for teammate Josh Brown after he was suspended for Week One of the NFL season over a domestic violence arrest. Now Pugh is walking back that support.

Pugh released a statement today saying that when he supported Brown previously, he did not know the full extent of the allegations against Brown, which became public when police documents were published this week.

“I was misinformed and unknowingly speaking with limited information at the time I commented earlier this year,” Pugh said today. “I had no personal knowledge of his behavior at home and obviously do not condone domestic violence of any kind.”

Pugh’s support for Brown struck some as particularly questionable because Pugh has also spoken strongly in support of standing for the national anthem. Some took Pugh’s comments as suggesting that he would support a teammate who beats his wife, but not a teammate who kneels for the anthem.

Pugh now wants to distance himself from that support of Brown. As do the Giants.

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Reed out, Jackson questionable for Sunday

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: DeSean Jackson #11of the Washington Redskins antagonizes fans of the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter of a football game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images) Getty Images

The Redskins have ruled tight end Jordan Reed out for Sunday’s game at Detroit and will list wide receiver DeSean Jackson as questionable.

Reed was diagnosed with a concussion last week, and given his concussion history it’s no surprise that he’s missing another game. The Redskins play the Bengals next week in London, then have a bye, so it’s reasonable to think Reed will be out until the second weekend of November.

Jackson missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday with a shoulder injury. Redskins Coach Jay Gruden told reporters that Jackson looked “pretty good” in Friday’s practice, but Gruden stopped short of declaring Jackson ready for Sunday. Jackson will be further evaluated Saturday and could end up being a game-time decision Sunday.

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Muhammad Wilkerson doesn’t practice, questionable for Sunday

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Temmates  Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets and  Muhammad Wilkerson #96 of the New York Jets react after a play against the Cincinati Bengals during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets season has been short on good news in the first six weeks and their chances of turning that around against the Ravens this Sunday won’t be helped by the ankle injury suffered by defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

Wilkerson missed his second practice of the week on Friday due to an injury that Wilkerson said, via Kimberley Martin of Newsday, has been bothering him for the last couple of weeks. Wilkerson had 1.5 sacks in the season opener against the Bengals, but has been relatively quiet over the last five weeks.

Wilkerson is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game as a result of the ankle and it sounds like it might be a situation where time off is called for if he’s going to get past the injury once and for all.

There are also a pair of question marks on the other side of the ball. Left tackle Ryan Clady and center Nick Mangold are both listed as questionable, although both of them were able to practice on Friday.

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League, law enforcement are both to blame for lack of information in Josh Brown case

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

King County Sheriff John Urquhart blames the NFL for failing to work hard enough to obtain information about the Josh Brown case. The NFL blames the Sheriff’s office for failing to cooperate with its efforts.

The truth, as usual, lives somewhere in the middle, with both sides bearing blame for the NFL’s lack of information at the time Brown initially was suspended only one game. Ultimately, however, the league’s lack of appropriate diligence resulted in the discipline being imposed based on incomplete facts.

Allow me to explain. (As if you have a vote in the matter.)

The materials released by the King County Sheriff’s department earlier this week show that, indeed, the NFL tried to gather information about the case. A woman named Deborah Katz called Josh Brown’s ex-wife, Molly, on June 3, 2015. (The document says 2016, but that apparently is a typo, based on the full context of the report.)

“Molly told me that she had a very limited conversation with the woman and told her that she did not want to speak to her about any of this,” wrote Detective Robin Ostrum of the King County Sheriff’s office. “Molly told me that if it truly was someone from the NFL calling her, she would not trust them to really be having her or her children’s best interest in mind. Molly states that the NFL would only be looking to bury this whole incident and protect Josh. I told Molly that she was under no obligation to talk to this woman, or discuss with anyone that might try to contact her, the nature of the investigation. I told Molly if she wanted, I would call this woman and ask that she not call her anymore; Molly stated that she would appreciate if I would do that.”

Ostrum then explained in the report that she contacted Deborah Katz, who “started pressing me for information on this case.” Ostrum said she would not discuss the case, explaining it was an “open and active investigation.”

“Deborah tried to ingratiate herself to me by telling me she was once a Prosecutor for the State of New York,” Ostrum wrote. “I told Deborah that if that was true, then she should know that I would not discuss an open and active investigation with her. Deborah then asked me why I was saying there was an open and active investigation if the Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charges. I explained to Deborah that the Prosecutor’s Office had not ‘dropped’ the charges against Josh, they had simply chosen not to ‘file’ charges at this time, pending further investigation into this matter, which I was doing.

“I clearly informed Deborah that depending on the outcome of my investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office could still file charges against Josh. Deborah stated that she would call me back from time to time to check on the status of my investigation. Over the next several months I did receive several phone calls from Deborah that [resulted] in the same thing, me telling her I would not discuss my open and active investigation with her. When that didn’t seem to be getting the NFL anywhere, they had a Detective from another local law enforcement agency, who apparent also works as a representative for the NFL, call me and try to get information from me on my investigation. I told him the same thing that I had discussed with Deborah, that I would not share information with him, or discuss my open and active investigation with him.”

The NFL, as noted by senior V.P. of communications Natalie Ravitz on Twitter, also submitted a formal request for public records, apparently on May 26, 2015. The response, along with the public records, finally arrived on October 19, 2016. This explains why media reports regarding the details of the records appeared that same day; others had made a request for public records, and the requests we all filled on the same say.

While it’s clear that the NFL did something to find out more about the allegations and evidence against Brown, the NFL didn’t do enough. It’s one thing to call the same person over and over again and say, “Are you ready to talk about the case?” It’s quite another to employ creative, aggressive, and relentless measures to get around, through, above, or under a stone wall and get to the truth.

Whether it’s contacting the sheriff directly to explain the importance of obtaining more information about the case, pushing Brown, his agents, and his lawyers to pressure law enforcement to conclude the case and release the information, or ultimately threatening to place Brown on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list until the case is closed and the information is obtained, the NFL could have and should have, when faced with that stone wall, done something other than repeatedly bang its head against it.

Law enforcement bears blame as well, given that the investigation languished for more than 14 months, with the case finally closed on September 14, 2016. The timeline suggests that the case fell into a black hole and that, after the league suspended Brown for one game, media inquiries resulted in the case being dusted off and concluded.

That’s unacceptable from a law-enforcement perspective, but it’s hardly unprecedented. Still, the fact that media agitation caused the Sheriff’s office to complete its work proves that the NFL could have pushed the investigation to a conclusion much sooner, with the right approach.

And so the NFL imposed discipline on Josh Brown based solely on information provided by him, without the benefit of the final report or the various attachments that demonstrate a pattern of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Faced with the choice as to whether the outcome arose from incompetence or design, the safer bet is incompetence, because anyone with an ounce of common sense had to know that, eventually, the investigation would be concluded and a report would be generated for public consumption.

Apart from the league’s decision to suspend Josh Brown for one game based on incomplete facts, these details make the team’s decision to re-sign Brown earlier this year even more confusing. All the Giants had to say was, “Josh, if you don’t find a way to get that investigation finally closed so that the information can be reviewed, we just can’t hire you again.”

Again, this outcome suggests more incompetence than design. Unless, of course, the incompetence flowed not from the efforts to obtain the necessary information but from the belief that the team would be able to brush this matter under the rug and that no one would ever know or care about the truth, especially since it involves a kicker.

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