As more and more sports leagues and more and more teams try to get into the media business, unusual developments occur from time to time.
Most recently, the Ravens have posted an item on their website acknowledging “multiple reports” that running back Ray Rice will be suspended two games for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. Adam Schefter of ESPN has reported that an announcement of the suspension will come later today.
On one hand, it’s smart that the Ravens didn’t avoid the topic. On the other hand, it would have been stupid to post the item without running the issue by folks higher on the organizational chart who may know which way the wind is or isn’t blowing. So if the folks who run the team’s website are smart, the mere posting of the story should be regarded as a very strong hint that, indeed, Rice will be suspended two games.
The backlash already has begun, on two fronts. Some have argued that the suspension of Rice without a suspension of Colts owner Jim Irsay shows favorable treatment of the folks who sign the checks. Others have argued that Rice didn’t get suspended long enough.
Both sentiments have a considerable degree of merit. Even though players are almost never suspended for a first-offense DUI and despite the fact that no discipline comes for a first-time DUI offender until the case is resolved, a strong expectation has emerged that Irsay should be and will be held to a higher standard. As to Rice, the fact that the NFL will throw a guy out of the game for a year due to the disease of addiction to marijuana or other non-PEDs but will ban a guy who knocked out his future wife in a public place for only two games seems more than a bit inconsistent.
The common thread between those two angles comes from the league’s ongoing desire to police what players do on their own time with substances that don’t enhance performance. Regardless of whether Irsay is suspended sooner than later, the league likely won’t subject him to the same rigorous testing that would throw a player who has an uncured disease out of the league for a year or longer, for fear of ultimately having to throw an owner out of the league for a year or longer. Or permanently.
So maybe the discussion eventually needs to focus squarely on the substance-abuse policy that applies to players. With coaches constantly policing performance by playing and/or keeping only the best players, that should be the ultimate litmus test for determining whether a guy should remain in the league notwithstanding the use of recreational drugs. If/when the use of street drugs affects his performance, he won’t have a job. If the use of street drugs doesn’t affect his performance, why should the NFL or anyone other than the appropriate law-enforcement agencies care?