A law school professor of mine once suggested a stock answer to the inevitable question posed by potential clients who believe their rights have been violated: “Can they do that?”
“Well,” the stock answer goes, “did they do it? If they did, then we know they can.”
That simply reality becomes relevant when assessing the Lions’ options for dealing with a roster that has generated six — six! — arrests this offseason, with defensive back Aaron Berry (pictured) the most recent defendant. Teams that choose not to get tough with players who get in trouble hide behind the CBA, claiming that there’s nothing that teams can do and that they must defer to the league on off-field conduct.
Technically, that’s right. (With one exception, to be mentioned below.) As a practical matter, it’s a cop out.
Teams “can” take a wide variety of steps to punish a player, CBA be damned. The most convenient device is the catch-all “conduct detrimental to the team.” While the player could challenge any fines or suspensions, claiming that the team is skirting the substance-abuse and/or personal-conduct policies, such efforts could serve only to make the situation worse for the player. It also would create the distinct impression that the player isn’t accepting responsibility for his actions, which may not go over well with the fans.
For the team, it sends a strong message that bad behavior won’t be tolerated.
There’s precedent for team’s disregarding league policies when players allegedly disregard the law. In 2008, the Steelers benched receiver Santonio Holmes with pay for a marijuana arrest. In 2010, the Colts suspended punter Pat McAfee for one game without pay after an alcohol incident. Neither action was authorized by the CBA; neither player fought his punishment.
Last year, the Vikings initially suspended cornerback Chris Cook for conduct detrimental to the team after an arrest for domestic violence, which clearly falls within the scope of the personal-conduct policy. Then, the Vikings gave Cook the Keyshawn treatment, paying the 2010 second-round pick not to play for the balance of the season (and in turn nearly tearing the locker-room apart). Cook didn’t fight it, though he easily could have.
So the Lions “can” fine or suspend, with or without pay, any of the players who have gotten arrested, if the Lions want to. To date, they don’t.
The Lions also “can” without consequence engage in one specific form of discipline after a player gets in trouble away from the field. Paragraph 9 of the Standard Player Contract provides that, “if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club, Club may terminate this contract.”
Though it may not be wise to start cutting talented players, the Lions eventually may decide to make an example out of one or more of their less-skilled problem children.
Regardless, if/when the Lions or any other team claim they can’t take action against players who get in trouble off the field, the reality is that, indeed, they can.