League shouldn’t take action against players arrested during the lockout


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.

71 responses to “League shouldn’t take action against players arrested during the lockout

  1. Not with you on this one. The ticket purchasing/tv watching public still considers them players during the lockout/strike.

  2. I see no way they can hold players accountable after they locked them out. Once the lockout began they were no longer employees and as a result the league cannot punish them until the they commit a crime or conduct violation that occurs after the lockout has been lifted.

  3. These poor, poor players. Sniff, sniff. Oh this is terrible. You mean the criminal element of the NFL can no longer cause mayhem just for fun. The horror.

  4. Why not? They are still NFL players, right? Which means they need to hold themselves to the upmost integrity on or off the field. If they are still under contract they should be held accountable for their actions by the NFL. If they are free agents that’s a different story.

  5. “OK guys. As I hand out these card please make sure you put them in your wallet and do not lose it.” Commish blurts out. “Oh and enjoy the monopoly game,” he adds.

    Confused, one lonely sole looks down and reads the card.

    Get Out Of Jail Free

  6. Since the NFL is basically a monopoly, they could just hand out “get out of jail free” cards….

  7. It would be near impossible for any players to sue the NFLPA for breach of duty of fair representation for any actions occuring since March 11 and whenever the union recertifies. The players voted to give up their representation so the NFLPA has no duty to protect them right now! I agree that the issue will be addressed in the CBA. I don’t know which way it will go, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the negotiators for the players threw a few bad apples under the bus in order to get a concession elsewhere that would benefit the majority. Either way I don’t see any exposure for the union, since their is no union currently representing the players.

  8. If I worked for a company…let’s say UPS. And I received a DUI on a Saturday which was my off day. Would it be OK for them to fire me because I wouldn’t be able to drive a truck for them? What if I worked for the United States Senate. And I was caught sending Sexting messages on my own time. Would it be OK for them to fire me (force me to resign)? The reason why sports have gotten so out of hand is this sense of entitlement that is given to athletes. Just because someone can run faster or jump higher shouldn’t put them on an untouchable pedestal. Each of us have an employer that we are accountable to. If you mess up and do something that is going to reflect badly on the company then they have every right to punish or fire you. If you don’t like the rules that you have to abide by then go and start your own business.

    Same thing for this lockout. It was stupid for players to think that they deserve part of the owner’s action. The players didn’t put any money towards the investment…only their skill. If they don’t like the millions that they are getting paid to play a game that most would play for $75-100k and don’t like the rules that they have to abide by to make those millions…then by all means, start your own league and see how it goes.

  9. Are they still employed by the NFL? Then yes, the league should impose discipline. Ive worked without a contract at my job and would be held accountable as well. In fact these players HAVE contracts. Its simply a labor/ management work stoppage.

  10. If that’s your feeling on the issue, than PFT’s “Days without an arrest” meter shouldn’t have been running during the lockout.

    Are you willing to retroactively delete all 22 arrests?

  11. BS.. WHY? Because Hines Ward is one of those people and he’d miss the opener against the Ravens?? Give me a break.

    ALL offending players should be subject to punishment.

  12. I agree – the League can’t have it both ways – locking out players but enforcing conduct rules.

    But I’m sure Dean Goodell has them on Double Secret Probation already.

  13. If I was to apply for a job with a criminal background, it may affect the company’s decision to hire me. Should be the same for the players. It’s not hard to stay out of trouble. Also as a Bengals fan, I am sick of hearing about guys getting in trouble. No excuse.

  14. Seems pretty simple to me. Upon decertification of the NFLPA, players are still employees whether locked out or not. They made a transition from organized to unorganized and are subject to labor law from the states in which they are employed. The Personal Conduct Policy, which is part of the CBA that ceased to be in effect when the owners opted out of it, served as a restrictor to the owners as it relates to punishment for off-field behavior. Sans a CBA, there are no restrictions and the employers can do pretty much what they want regarding their employees, within state law.

    But yeah they could agree to not punish them at all, just a bone to use for negotiation purposes.

  15. Sounds almost as crazy as the players wanting $320 million in lost benefits due to the uncapped year…even though the uncapped year was agreed upon within the last CBA.

  16. Most people, on modest salaries or less, manage to get through their entire LIVES without getting “locked up”. What’s wrong with these guys that it’s become so commonplace that excuses are being made for their behavior?

  17. Look, it doesn’t matter when the incident happens, lockout or not. If the effect of breaking the law subjects the player to criminal proceedings, probationary hearings, court appearances, and NEGATIVE MEDIA SCRUTINY, and any or all of those consequences happen when football resumes, then the player should be punished.

    Just because the League locked them out does not by virtue null and void their NFL or Team contract.

    The sad part is that law abiding players are not holding their criminal counterparts responsible foor giving them all a bad name.

  18. If a player fails a drug test in college, that’s considered strike one once he’s drafted into the league. Similar kind of thing and probably isn’t right.

  19. employers can choose to hire/fire/discipline who ever they want (as long as its not for reasons protected by the law).

    “in the real world” people who are involved with the legal system get fired all the time, not saying its right, but employers have that legal right

    im so tired of these players thinkin that the rules of society do not apply to them

  20. Excuse the league and society to expect these guys to behave like law abiding citizens while they settle a labor dispute. I’m sure if a lawyer was arrested while he and his law firm were working on his contract, they was halt all negotiations. Punish these guys…

    P.S. – I’m a Raider fan, so I’m fully aware that this may mean Bush, Murph, and Mario Henderson (if he’s resigned) are in jeopardy.

  21. Absolutely right.

    The league can’t have it both ways. If a player hurt himself during the lock out and filed a claim for money the NFL would tell him to stick it as “we were not in business at that time”.

    The players who got in trouble should use the same rationale and tell Goodell to stick it.

    I will make an exception for James Harrison though. The Steelers should be free to make him apologize to the whole team for his recent rants and then put it up on Youtube for everyone to see. Then fine him $150K. Then make him write 1000 times on the team whiteboard “No one cares about my opinion and I will shut up in the future”

  22. During a labor action such as a strike or a lockout, employees of a company are still bound by conduct policy. That goes for everyone elese, it should go for the NFLPA as well.

    On or off duty I’m a representetive of my employer. My employer can and does discipline people routinely for off duty transgressions.

  23. And most people have background checks and drug screenings pre-employment, which may put them on probation or even put them out of the running.

  24. orakpownd says:
    Jul 18, 2011 8:45 AM
    So I shouldnt lose my clearance If I get arrested on vacation from my work?

    Bad analogy.

    You’re still employed and being paid while on vacation.

    And if you are talking about a security clearance, then it is a REALLY bad analogy. Security clearances are necessarily determined by all of your behavior, present and past.

    A better analogy would be if there was some sort of specific behavior that would lead you to be suspended, but not effect your clearance that you engaged in after being laid off from your job and not getting paid.

    Would you expect to be suspended when they hired you back?

  25. Being an idiot is still being an idiot… but legally they have no leverage because, if im not mistaken, NONE of the players are currently employed by the NFL or their respective teams technically right? I mean, a team can choose NOT to employ a player again once the lockout ends but how much of their actions during this time will hold up in court? i could DEF be wrong but i don’t think they can really do much about it unless they pull an indirect penalty through a loophole and say it was because of something else… that dirty crap happens all the time anyway im sure… I don’t agree with any of the off field actions of these idiots… but legally… im not sure the league has a chance on this one

  26. Sorry Mike, I disagree with you. A player, weather working at the time or not, is still employed by the team which he is contracted to. The players sign yearly contracts with teams and therefore the team holds thier rights (weather there is a work stoppage or not). Players are not paid during the offseason (other than endorsements) anyway.

    These are grown men who should know the difference between right and wrong and should be disciplined for thier bad actions.

  27. 100% Agree, while these guys are locked out the personal conduct policy doesn’t apply.

    They still have to answer to the justice system.

  28. So in some articles, you talk about players and how hard they work year-round to be in the NFL and how they are at risk for injury so they deserve more money and health insurance for several years after they are NFL employees…

    Then on articles such as this one, you minimize their affiliation with the NFL and act like they are just regular guys who do some part-time work for the NFL… WHICH ONE IS IT???

    The facts is that it is a unique situation to be an NFL player… That results in unique rules that apply to you (I.E. Very large salaries, short careers, health risks, and accountability on and off the field). The fact that you are trying to act like they are “regular” Joe-Smo employee doesn’t make sense.

    Regular employees don’t make Millions of dollars, we don’t demand our bosses tell us why we should take a paycut, and we don’t ask for our health insurance to be paid for us for the rest of our lives even decades after we retire… These guys want special treatment in some area’s, but then also wanted to be treated just like “everyone else” in other area’s like trouble with the law… Sorry, you can’t have it both ways!

  29. But we’ll have trouble understanding any understanding that allows the NFL to punish players for arrests occurring during the lockout.

    They’re still under contract. Those contracts didn’t become null and void because of a lockout. If that was the case no player would belong to any team at the moment the lockout ends.

  30. If they fail a drug test one day after the lockout ends should the league suspend them? In all likelihood they took the performance enhancing drugs during the lockout. Maybe they can even prove that. Similar argument, no?

  31. I’d argue that it should be worse, and that the players should support it being worse. I mean, the players are making a bad name for themselves with their actions, it’s almost like an attack against an NFL that can’t protect it’s self. It’s also making the NFLPA*s efforts seem trivial and begins to effect their appearance against the owners. I mean, it’s not like Tom Brady got arrested. If you aren’t helping the cause, then don’t make any noise.

  32. @sablebomb504

    “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 that’s exactly what happens when players have been arrested in the past. By that logic, Pacman/Vick/etc/etc never got away with any of his issues but he was punished by the league anyway.

    How does that sentence make any sense in context with the personal conduct policy in the past?

    Several users have stated examples of how if they had a job with company X and did something like get arrested, they’d lose said job regardless of the circumstances, so I won’t provide another.

    This is just yet another example of treating players as if they exist outside of reality. When you give players excuses throughout high school, college and the real world, it’s no wonder they break the law…everyone has been telling them they’re above it their whole lives.

    How is letting them off the hook like this supposed to set any example for current or future players?

  33. Translation:

    If you ever wanted to go on a week-long bender, capped off by a public intoxication / DUI arrest and ‘Training Day’-esque neighborhood meltdown, now is the time, fellas.

  34. What about retired players? They are former players and collect a sizable pension. When I think of OJ Simpson, I think of an NFL player and a murderer. If current players are held accountable beyond what the legal system does, then retired players should too.

    There are thousands of former players that are more recognizable in the public than a backup special teams player on the Chiefs. If they are truly concerned about the NFL image, they would work fine structures into the retirement plan that requires players to uphold the same standards post-employment that they do during employment.

  35. I disagree completely. This isn’t prep school where people can just lose it as soon as the teacher isn’t paying attention.

    Whether in lockout or not, it should be handled the same way as any other year. You sit down with the player, look at the amount of damage perceived and act on that information. Just because it was in lockout does not give a person a pass from league discipline.

    When a person has been arrested multiple times, like Cedric Benson, it should be easy as it has been a pattern. When a person has been in trouble multiple times for beating up a teammate, swinging a helmet at another one, punching out a cab driver and then pistol whipping and (allegedly) firing a gun at a person, it doesn’t really make any difference if it was in lockout or not. It’s a pattern and they should be punished accordingly.

    By the way. There are people who always talk about how the league shouldn’t punish if they’re not found guilty. This is not right. For one thing, the player is being punished for making the NFL look bad and being dumb enough to put themselves in the situation to begin with. sometimes, on multiple occasions. Secondly, when yoiu have players with enough money to make things go away, the player is never forced to learn. This makes them have to whether they face the courts or not.

    The lockout shouldn’t be a “get out of jail free” card.

  36. Lol Nice try Mike, in life people have to be accountable and the legal system tends to drag on. If Goodell didnt have an iron fist oh my goodnesss well you know the inmates led by PacMan et al, and there are a lot of others will be running the asylum.

  37. This isn’t a bargaining chip to be used between the players and the owners. Owners don’t have a lot to do with fines/suspensions handed down by the league. If anything, the owners DON’T want their players suspended or fined. It only costs them more revenue and wins to have suspended players.

    The fans will have to hold the players accountable in this case. This arrangement will get fast-tracked by the league to avoid missing any of the actual season. Like it, or not.

  38. Man, 22 arrests in 4 months……Picking the Ed Block “Courage” award winners this year is going to be one hell of a task………

  39. The argument about whether you would get fired for what you have done while on vacation or a weekend has no merit whatsoever.

    The moment the NFL locked them out and the union decertified, all those players essentially became unemployed. Therefore the NFL has no right to enforce any extra punishment for actions during the lockout. Those players should be punished by the legal system only (I, for one, hope the system does so).

  40. let me see if I get this straight.nfl locks players out so that means it is ok for them to go out and do whatever they want and if they get arrested it is the owners fault for locking them out? how about the players start taking some responsibility for their actions instead of whining about it when the commissioner does?

  41. So if someone is on vacation, they can do whatever they want without having an issue with their employer?

    Interesting perspective.

  42. wannabeqb says:
    Jul 18, 2011 10:08 AM
    The argument about whether you would get fired for what you have done while on vacation or a weekend has no merit whatsoever.

    The moment the NFL locked them out and the union decertified, all those players essentially became unemployed. Therefore the NFL has no right to enforce any extra punishment for actions during the lockout. Those players should be punished by the legal system only (I, for one, hope the system does so).


    Any player who was under contract with a team at the time of the lockout was still bound by the terms of his contract and therefore, is subject to league discipline.

    One could argue that free agents like Cedric Benson may not be, since they weren’t under contract, but that would depend on league rules for non-retired but still eligible players who aren’t under contract.

  43. twitter:Chapman_Jamie says:
    Jul 18, 2011 8:51 AM
    I see no way they can hold players accountable after they locked them out. Once the lockout began they were no longer employees and as a result the league cannot punish them until the they commit a crime or conduct violation that occurs after the lockout has been lifted.
    They are still under contract which means they are STILL currently employed by the NFL. If they are a free agent or not under contract then the NFL has no right to hold them accountable.

  44. wannabqb: You say “The moment the NFL locked them out and the union decertified, all those players essentially became unemployed. Therefore the NFL has no right to enforce any extra punishment for actions during the lockout. Those players should be punished by the legal system only (I, for one, hope the system does so).”

    OK, I hope the legal system does so as well. But what you’re saying doesn’t fly. It only matters if the players that get in trouble no longer want to play for the NFL, then they can’t get in trouble. If they want to come back to it, though, the NFL has every right to suspend or fine them. What are they going to say? That they didn’t realize they weren’t allowed to act that way because they were in a lockout? That’s insane. If they’re unemployed when they do something, then let them decide if they’d rather stay unemployed or come back to the NFL and face discipline.

  45. WRONG… They still represent the organization that signed them and need to show some respect if they have any plans of returning to work.

  46. The lawyer in you really shows through in this piece Mike. The real world folks have to abide by the off duty conduct rules at their workplaces, union or not, so why shouldn’t these guys? I’m tired of all of these guys with millions of dollars thinking they are untouchable. I used to not care so much, but this lockout has really changed my attitude towards the players. Greed and entitlement runs deep with these guys.

    Actions have consequences, consequences are predictable. You are responsible for your actions, therefore, you are responsible for the consequences.

  47. The still represented themselves as NFL players. So either they are accountable under the personal conduct policy or guilty of fraud. Can’t have it both ways.

  48. I think you had a typo when you write the players that run afoul are held accountable by the legal system because they’re definitely not.

  49. Uh, no, Mike. What’s Goodell supposed to do, put the bullets back in Talib’s gun and say “hey, we’ll pretend you never fired this, and anyway it’s great that you and your Mom found a fun family activity during the lockout”?

  50. I could be wrong but the players are employed by their TEAMS not the NFL. The NFL is the governing body in some matters, yes. But my opinion is if the guy had a valid contract, the TEAM needs to decide whether to discipline him and to adhere to the limits imposed for teams to do so. Unfortunately it may lead to a bunch of guys who would normally be rightfully punished not to be because most teams don’t have anything but situational ethics when it comes to sitting guys down who are good players but it’s yet another bad consequence of the lockout. It’s not a cafeteria line and you can’t FAIRLY pick and choose what consequences you want. You don’t have to pay workout bonuses …YAY…you are limited to team parameters for discipline not the more stringent ones of the NFL…boo…oh well.

  51. I hope those players involved call D Maurice Idiot. Lets see how that works out for them. Who is responsible for that moron representing the players?

  52. if players would stop getting arrested then they wouldn’t have to worry about getting punished by the league. i mean c’mon. next you’re going to start saying that when a high school athlete gets in trouble with the law they shouldn’t be kicked off the team or at least benched. as an athlete, especially a pro athlete, you represent the league and your team, and if you do something to give the league or your team a negative image then the league or your team have the right to punish you. a player doesn’t stop being a representative or icon o the league and his team just because of a lockout. but you’re right they’re players who are getting paid millions of dollars to play a game, it’s probably too much to ask of them to not get arrested. my mistake

  53. It’s ludicrous. It’s offensive. And it’s wrong.

    So is a DUI, beating a spouse, getting arrested for drug possession, bringing a gun to a night club. But you are right Mike, we shouldn’t punish this behavior. they all seem like good, unemployed (still under contracts to teams) guys. If the NFL lets this slide, that may be the thing that turns me away from it entirely.

  54. Sorry folks, but if you are arguing along the lines of “If I’m on vacation/off day and I get arrested my company could still punish me” … that does not work here. Currently, the players are NOT EMPLOYED. They are not getting paychecks, they are not on vacation or using days off… they are simply not employed. From that angle, there is no way they should be held to the rules that govern EMPLOYED football players.

    From the PR angle, it does make sense though. I’ll buy that.

  55. @ejmat2: How can you say that because they are still under contract they are still employed? Hypothetically, if this lockout lasts until 2012, and the players receive no salary or benefits from the NFL… how can you consider that being employed?

  56. the players that got in trouble made themselves look like asses,but they were looked out and did’nt the union decertify too?

  57. Dictionary definition of employee – a worker who is hired to perform a job.

    The conduct policy is only pertinent to employees or anyone affiliated with the NFL. The NFL and it’s operations cannot exist without a collective bargaining agreement and right now there is not one. The NFL also cannot exist because none of the 32 teams or separately, individually owned businesses are exercising any antitrust exemptions to have a league, even without a union. If all of these football teams are not lined up for a common interest (football and its operations) there is no business or a place to call players “employees” or “individuals with NFL affiliation”.

    Plus, no NFL and a cease of it’s work operations meant no OTA’s where payments and workout bonuses were supposed to be distributed. Now they never will be, but no PFT reader cares because their mentality is the players are as rich as Bill Gates and I’m not so they’re greedy!!! Also, what if there were missed games?? Then the owners pocket game checks. This whole thing is too shifted toward the owners and the commissioner. I hope there’s a third party to rule on this crap, but hopefully it’s not a complete pro business stiff.

  58. @orakpownd to equate the suspension of NFL operations that legitimately prevent a player to work to a vacation is stupid!!!

    Vacations are not forced upon you (for the most part)!!!! Work stoppages are!!!

  59. The players are still under contract and still expected to play and represent the organization. If the Government is shut down(as I believe it is in some places) and a government official does something wrong, he could well lose his job.

    Further, simply not being employed is not a reason to get arrested. There are plenty of people in the world who don’t have a job and don’t get arrested.

    And ultimately, employed or not, when the new CBA becomes active all those contracts return to effect. So it’s not even as if they’re out of work permanently. They planned on going back. To turn your back on what happened during this offseason simply because the contracts weren’t in effect is the equivalent of having a drunk driver only get in trouble for lacking a license because he shouldn’t have been driving.

  60. My guess is that from the moment the lockout occurred, there were no enforceable NFL rules. The CBA had expired. The league would have been free to create and enforce their own arbitrary rules if they had chosen to continue football operations, but they didn’t. They chose to discontinue football operations.

    In addition, the NFLPA was decertified. With no legal standing, players entered into anti-trust litigation on their own. That is pretty good proof that the union has no say and no obligations during this time period. Players are without a union from a legal perspective. Once the owners ragtify the new agreement, the players will have to vote on unionization, once again.

    If the new contract has some specific wording that allows the owners to punish them for acts while this lockout has been going on; the players are screwed. In absence of such wording, the owners will start over from square-one. I am not sure that transgressions under the old contract have bearing under the new one. It would seem to me that everyone starts over with a clean slate.

  61. the players are the ones that broke off negotiations in the first place, so i don’t feel bad for them being locked out. if they wouldn’t have broken off negotiations then they wouldn’t be locked out. so saying they aren’t employed because the owners locked them out is stupid. they caused the lockout. if they would’ve acted like adults then the lockout wouldn’t have happened.

  62. Why should they get a free pass… because the owners locked the players out?

    The players still have their team’s names attached to their name, thus sullying the teams AND the league. If Aqib Talib was pumping gas in Kansas, no one would give a rodent’s rear end. But he’s not a nobody, he’s a pro football player!

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