NFL gradually has softened its hard-line approach to player discipline

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A wise man has said, “Once is an accident, twice is a trend. Four, five, or six times is a clear indication of a strategic shift in overall policy.” (I may have added the last part.)

It has become more and more clear and obvious over the past year or so that the NFL, reeling from sharp reductions in TV viewership during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, has decided to take a kindler and gentler approach to player discipline, in order to ensure that as many great players as possible are available to play in NFL regular-season and postseason games.

The change happened at some point after the Ezekiel Elliott case, which entailed (in my opinion) a Keystone cops investigation and a kangaroo court proceeding aimed at justifying that which the league office wanted to do: Suspend Elliott for six games.

Those wheels were put in motion before the election-induced ratings drop of 2016 was followed by the unexpected anthem-induced additional ratings drop of 2017, and the end result was the team that has become the top TV draw in the NFL spending 37.5 percent of a season without the straw that stirs its drink. As ratings plummeted in 2017, someone at the league office apparently did the math regarding the impact of not having great players on the field versus the impact of letting great players play despite off-field baggage.

The pendulum initially swung hard in the direction of taking a hard line with players after the elevator video emerged in the Ray Rice case. The Commissioner spent a couple of weeks genuinely concerned that he could lose his job in the uproar that ensued, and Roger Goodell undoubtedly resolved at that point that he would never, ever be accused again of going too easy on a player who misbehaves. That trend continued until Elliott’s suspension, which was followed by an all-out effort by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to get rid of Goodell.

Forced to choose between an assault on his job by a mob of outsiders and an assault on his job by one of his 32 bosses, and concerned about the very real impact on ratings of star players not playing, Goodell has now nudged the pendulum in the other direction, far more subtly and gradually than it moved in 2014.

It started with the league’s unspoken lenience for chronic substance-abuse policy violators like Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant, and Randy Gregory. Although the trio currently is suspended, the league could have tossed each of them out of the sport early in 2018 under the clear terms of the policy. Instead, they each got extra chances until new suspensions were imposed, and the new suspensions weren’t for a minimum of one year (as they should have been). Indeed, there’s a chance that all three will be playing again this year.

Why? Because no one cares about marijuana anymore, and no one will complain that the league is letting guys who smoke pot play football.

The dynamic also has affected the league’s application of the Personal Conduct Policy. The investigation of multiple incidents involving then-Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt was in mothballs before video of him pushing and kicking a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel emerged. Elliot, despite video showing him confronting and possibly shoving a 19-year-old security guard and notwithstanding Elliott’s status as a prior offender (which supposedly is a big deal under the Personal Conduct Policy), wasn’t punished. Now there’s Hill, who escaped any and all punishment with the league issuing a statement that doesn’t even address the menacing remark that prompted the Chiefs to send him away from the team’s offseason program.

Two years ago, Hill wouldn’t have been so fortunate. Now, as the league tries to build on momentum from 2018 TV numbers fueled by an offensive explosion about which the NFL privately bragged to reporters on a near-weekly basis, it’s better for the league to have Hill on the field than it is for the league to not have Hill on the field. Sure, there will be complaints and objections, maybe even a loosely-organized protest. But the potential impact on the league’s business from letting Hill play is smaller than the potential impact on the league’s business from not letting him play, and that’s ultimately all the league cares about.

Football is business. They say “football is family” because it’s good for business to say “football is family,” but football is business. The NFL got into the business of policing the private lives of players for P.R. purposes. The NFL enhanced those efforts in the face of strong objections to the NFL’s failure to be aggressive enough with players who got in trouble away from work. Now, business interests require an approach that entails the application a deeply flawed in-house justice system (a system that isn’t about justice at all) in a way that enhances business.

That’s why Hill wasn’t suspended, and that’s why players in similar situations will receive similar treatment, unless and until the league’s business interests once again compel a more aggressive approach to discipline. At that point, the pendulum will swing again, back in the direction of imposing overly strong punishments.

46 responses to “NFL gradually has softened its hard-line approach to player discipline

  1. Only if a player is good it is softened. If he’s on the practice squad considered him gone

  2. Wow! Every now and then Florio reminds us of why he is the man behind this machine called PFT. Well said and unfortunately a sad truth. I’m shaking my head in disbelief as I watch what my favorite game has become as I hold my 2 sons praying I don’t get asked the tough questions I no longer have an answer for. All good parents out there keep your patience and love your kids unconditionally. God Bless

  3. Without looking it all up

    I remember the NFL made a new hard line policy for mandatory suspensions for offenses. Then the NYG kicker got half or less of the new “mandatory” hard line rule for abusing his wife at the Pro Bowl. IIRC the incident even occurred on a floor of a hotel occupied by nothing but NFL players and executives.

  4. Goodell is trying to convince the players he’s a good guy so that they will accept the next CBA…then he’ll go back to suspending Brady for sneezing again.

  5. What about air pressure though? I’d argue preferring footballs to be “spongy” vs “extra firm” is significantly worse than rage-breaking a toddler’s arm.

  6. I remember when Goodell came into the League in 2006. He was lauded as a get tough sheriff in a world of (seemingly) lawless players.

    Now we have a player who threatened his “fiancé” (lol) on tape while likely being a serial abuser of his son and Goodell gives him a pass. Hill is a toxic, noxious human being and he’ll get his just desserts when his career is done and he washes out broke and behind bars.

    I wonder what 2006 Goodell would have done in this situation, though.

  7. This just proves Goodell has no idea what he’s doing. He has screwed up every major issue that has come across his desk from spygate, deflate gate, bountygate, the original Rice suspension, the Zeke suspension, the Nola no call, the Thursday night games, the anthem fiasco and now the Tyreek Hill non suspension. Can someone be this incompetent at the highest level and yet still keep their job??

  8. The bottom line is Tyreek hill was not charged of convicted in any court of law. Had he been and the Commish ignore that then we would have a real issue here. I know i know the league have punish players before who was NOT charged with a crime, but just maybe the NFL might want to err on the side of caution and also follow suit moving forward.

  9. Tyreek Hill: chokes pregnant girlfriend. abuses child and breaks the arm- NO SUSPENSION.

    Rashard Robinson: gets caught with weed and misses drug test- TEN GAME SUSPENSION.

    Yeah. There is NO standard except for ‘are you on the team of our golden goose? If you are, you can go do whatever you want. If you’re not, boom, you’re out of the league.’

    Goodell must be FIRED!

    As I’ve said all offseason and have been heavily criticized by the majority of posters on this site,’once Hill is back on the field and scores a TD, the chiefs fans and sports media will go gaga over Hill and you’ll never hear about his criminal history again.’

    I said it then and I was right. I’m saying it now and I’m still right.


  10. Goodell should have had an panel made up of 4 NFL players 1 NFL retired head coach years ago. The panel reviews all evidence good and bad against the player and votes on the violation and majority rules the outcome. Then they recommend the suspensions which are imposed then player then has the right to an appeal. That’s where Goodell comes into play if appealed. He either agrees with the punishment or lessons it. If that was in play way before the Ray Rice incident were he was judge and jury he wouldn’t be hated as much as he is today.

  11. The Commissioner is the son of a professional politician and that is how he acts — no spine or consistency, but whatever way he is paid to go. Sad.

  12. Lawyers and the NFLPA have ruined the game because they make the NFL liable, legally, for everything that the players get away with.
    Zero tolerance is the way to go.
    That is the ONLY way that PLAYERS will learn not to commit crimes or put themselves in compromising situations.
    One strike and your contract is voided.
    Good luck at McDonald’s Mr. Player.

  13. Also the pending CBA negotiations is a key reason IMO. I’m sure players were going to demand that Goodell have less power. Showing a softening before the negotiations sort of removes that urgency for the players to push that point as hard. There isn’t that much of an obvious problem they have to address in a major way. This softened stance could change overnight though with one high-profile domestic violence issue.

  14. Ya’ll forget that every NFL player is protected by a UNION!
    That union threatens the NFL will lawsuits every time the NFL dares to try to discipline a player.But the NFLPA keeps everything private and always ensures that the NFL looks bad no matter what.
    No player suspension for Tyreek Hill…he can thank the NFLPA for his protection.
    Robinson is a habitual offender, you failed to consider that fact.

  15. His girlfriend tried to set him up. The forensic investigator went through all their text messages where she admitted to abusing the child herself but blamed him because she was mad at him for hurting her emotionally.

  16. I don’t think they have softened. I think they still as always just make it up as they go based on what fits their needs. Its just that their needs as of late have called for playing it softer. But the day it fits their needs to hand out a year suspension for spilling a glass of milk there will be no hesitation.

  17. This is such BS. Tyreek Hill should NOT be allowed to play in the NFL at all. This is such hypocrisy. Terrible day for the NFL.

  18. Meanwhile MLB suspended a player for half a season, and the WNBA suspended a player for 10 games, the first time AFAIK that a woman in a pro sport has been suspended. The NFL has regressed even as other leagues have not.

  19. When a new CBA is signed, Goodell disciplines hard as a way of taking as much ground as the courts allow. Then, on the eve of the next CBA deal, he gradually gives it back to encourage negotiatios.

    Not a bad move.

  20. I don’t believe a player should be disciplined or suspended if their are no criminal charges filed. If they broke no laws, then what right does the NFL feel it has to have it’s own “moral standards”? What? You think you hold players to a higher standard? How unfair is that.

  21. if tyreek hill plays defense, he would have been suspended.

    this is yet another move to protect the high scoring offenses and the elite quarterbacks. the nfl is NOT happy the superbowl last year featuring 2 gigantic cities had very poor ratings because of the low scoring. goodell wants offense and he wants quarterbacks to hype. Tyreek hill will make pat maholmes better, and the league more exciting for ratings.

    this is all a move to protect quarterbacks and high scoring games.

  22. But but Josh GORDON will get a least 4 games for pot use,yeah the NF cares about its image.

  23. There is no trend. It is totally arbitrary the way discipline is doled out by a dictator at the top. The new CBA should make discipline more fair and equittable by allowing a multi-member committee to decide if and how discipline should be enforced.

  24. Look how easy they went on Kraft. Not only is he an owner he owns the Patriots!

  25. Not holding my breath on Josh Gordon being reinstated, the league will drag it out as long as they can. It’s becoming apparent that Goodell has enemies and besties. Congrats KC you have Goodell on your side.

  26. daddeeo says:

    July 19, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    The Chiefs, The Browns, The Rams, The Cowboys, and now the Cardinals are all immune now.


    Giants too if your name is Manning

  27. …..softened their stance on player discipline (sic)….the NFL is an entertainment entity, how do they hold themselves above THE LAW!!! Not saying Hill is clean, innocent, or above reproach. But, the NFL is not a local or Supreme Court. If they were so concerned about the image of the shield, the first step they would take is to remove themselves from the image of, enforcer, judge, and juror (oh and Probation Department). This whole situation is troubling in the least. But, any employer that feels they are more “righteous “ than the justice system is not an employer, but a property owner!!!!!!!!!!

  28. The NFL has Softened it’s approach to player discipline………Until they Frame up the Patriots again!

  29. They have not “softened their approach”, they have continued on with the same completely arbitrary process Goodell has used since day 1, punishing some guys too much, some not at all without any rhyme or reason.

  30. I’ll say.

    Games are played in outdoor stadiums all winter long that are under psi requirements.

    It’s no longer a problem apparently.

  31. People posting that commish shoulda suspended him?? Come on people there is no evidence. Its not like there is some kinda out of court settlement to avoid charges. This is america, innocent til proven guilty. This political correct stuff is way out of hand did he do it ? Maybe. If you are sure that he is guilty, dont watch chiefs games. As far as unions go nfl players have lousy union. Most contracts not guarentee. Players have to keep up their end of it but teams dont? Scrap union and start over

  32. thecape15 says:
    July 19, 2019 at 5:47 pm
    I’ll say.

    Games are played in outdoor stadiums all winter long that are under psi requirements.

    It’s no longer a problem apparently.

    They have had to replace all the balls at halftime in a game and there have been two more cases of one team accusing another of tampering. In all of those cases it was investigated and they correctly determined that it was due to weather conditions and none of the teams involved were guilty of anything.

  33. tb12greatest says:
    July 19, 2019 at 11:45 am
    Goodell is trying to convince the players he’s a good guy so that they will accept the next CBA…then he’ll go back to suspending Brady for sneezing again.


    also, ignoring the elliott intimdation and knock down on film as a favor to jerrah

  34. It’s funny how people hold the NFL commissioner to a higher standard than the president.

    NFL fans are hypocrites. And selfish. Most of sports fans in general.

    Fake fan outrage and TMZ created this mess.

  35. Some facts – sorry – I know it’s easier to scream for Tyreek’s head than it is to actually think through the situation. 1) The child’s arm was broken in January 2019. The report of possible abuse was made in March. The doctor’s who examined him determined that the break was consistent with a fall – kids actually do fall down sometimes. If the doctor’s suspected abuse, they were required to report it. They didn’t – so the whole broken arm thing needs to be taken off the table – neither Tyreek or Crystal was accused of breaking the child’s arm – it was not what prompted the CPS investigation. The NFL investigators, being considerably brighter than a lot of those who want Tyreek’s head, didn’t consider the child’s broken arm – since Tyreek was never accused of that. LET IT GO;

    2)In March someone – either Crystal, Tyreek, or a neighbor, reported that the child was being abused;

    3) also in March Tyreek contacted the police to report that his fiance (Crystal) was passed out on the couch and his son was left unattended – apparently there were cameras to monitor the child in the home. The child was then removed from the home as CPS felt that the child might be at risk with EITHER parent.

    4) Tyreek – “Crystal you know I didn’t cause any bruising or harm to (our son). But for some reason I may still be charged.” Crystal “I know you didn’t. I did. I hurt (our son).”

  36. Part two … “I’m the one that did it. I was hurt and mad at you so I blamed you for everything.” – text messages between Tyreek and Crystal that were turned over to the NFL

    5) There is also the 11 minute recording that Crystal made as “insurance.” If you listen to the whole thing Tyreek consistently denies abusing his son and also brings up the 2014 incident (the choking – punching) and claims that Crystal was lying about that. Crystal’s response is not – “the hell you didn’t hit me” her response is “well what about the bruises, how did that happen?”

    6) The NFL requested an interview with Crystal to get her side of the story – she chose to remain silent.

    Given these facts it is not at all surprising that the NFL chose not punish Tyreek. Unless I missed something, he has only been ACCUSED of domestic violence twice – by the same woman – with no other witnesses. There have not been any reports of him fighting off the field, no wild bar fights etc. His entire history of violence rests on the testimony of ONE unreliable witness.

    How would you feel in his position?

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