Four years ago, the NFL insisted on retaining full power over the Personal Conduct Policy and other types of conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game.
At a time when those powers gradually have eroded under the substance-abuse policy and PED policy, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft thinks that the time has possibly come to yield final say on all player disciplinary issues.
“The Personal Conduct Policy and how discipline would be handled by the Commissioner started under [former Commissioner] Paul [Tagliabue] and was strengthened under Roger [Goodell],” Kraft said Saturday during his a pregame radio interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, via Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com. “I think the world has changed and the complexity of some of the situations — things that I don’t think we ever thought we would be dealing with, we’re dealing with.”
Kraft was careful to point out that he wasn’t talking only about the controversy that resulted in the NFL imposing a four-game suspension on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but “the seriousness of a lot of the other issues that we’re dealing with,” such as domestic violence.
“There probably needs to be a rethinking so that the league office and the Commissioner aren’t put in a spotlight in a way that detracts from the league’s image and the game,” Kraft said, “even if the league office is doing the right thing, or the wrong thing, or whatever you think. It probably needs to be rethought for the modern era that we’re in and the different things that are coming up that I don’t think people anticipated and how the public wants to see them treated.”
He’s right. As the ultimate reality show continues to become more and more important to football fans and more and more closely followed by the media every hour of every day of every month of every year, it’s becoming too difficult for the league to balance its various competing interests while also trying to do “the right thing” in every case, whatever “the right thing” may be.
“At the end of the day, our league consumes the country’s consciousness for big periods of the year and what we’re doing at the league level, and what the players are doing and coaches are doing should be the focus of how the public views us that vast majority of the time,” Kraft said. “I’m talking about all the things that have been talked about over the last year. I think it’s a general big-picture issue that needs to be addressed, but I don’t have any answers for you today.”
It’s another way of saying that it’s one thing to have full power over issues that no one is paying attention to how it’s being implemented, but quite another when the media is acting like Gordon Sumner plucking a standup bass in black and white.
“I think the league office, with the business of football, there is so much to handle day to day, and so much to do,” Kraft said. “I think there needs to be a prescribed process for how certain parts of the discipline process are going to work, especially probably the appeals, so that the spotlight and the attention doesn’t all have to fall on Park Avenue. I’m not saying Park Avenue is capable or not capable. I’m not making a value judgment with what I’m saying. I think I’m just making a big-picture macro observation.”
If the NFL agrees, the next challenge becomes figuring out how to do what the NFL Players Association has been clamoring for the NFL to do, after the NFL made concessions during the 2011 labor negotiations in order to retain its power over player discipline. Does the league play it cool, trying to get something at the bargaining table for doing something it should do without a quid pro quo? Or does the league find a way to do what’s right without regard to what the league gets in return?
Based on the way the NFL has handled the settlement talks in the litigation spawned by Brady’s suspension, do we really need to even consider that one?