James Saxon case proves that P.R. drives the Personal Conduct Policy

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys
Getty Images

On Monday, Judge Sue L. Robinson accused the NFL of reacting too strongly to public opinion in the administration of the Personal Conduct Policy. She failed to realize that public opinion drives the entire policy.

The policy exists as a mechanism for empowering the league to take action against players and others who get in trouble while away from work. For most employers, off-duty behavior isn’t the employer’s concern. But the NFL has made such issues its concern, because the public expects that action will be taken against those who potentially squander the “privilege” of being associated with The Shield by getting in trouble when not operating under its auspices.

Still, the Personal Conduct Policy entails a bit of a P.R. balancing act for the league. It’s one thing to act when an off-field situation has been heavily covered, discussed, and scrutinized, like the Deshaun Watson case. When someone gets in trouble and the media doesn’t notice, the league has to choose between acting — and therefore making a non-story into a story — or letting sleeping dogs lie.

A perfect example of this dynamic comes from the NFL’s handling of Cardinals running backs coach James Saxon. On Friday, it was reported for the first time that he was arrested in May on domestic battery charges. After the report emerged, the Cardinals places Saxon on paid administrative leave, at the recommendation of the league.

This timeline caused many to infer that either Saxon hadn’t told the Cardinals about the situation or the Cardinals hadn’t told the league. That’s not the case; as coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters on Friday, the team knew about the arrest when it happened, and the team reported it to the league at that time.

The league, per the team, didn’t recommend administrative leave until today, after the report emerged.

The implication is obvious. The league didn’t want to create a story out of the Saxon arrest when no such story existed. If he’d been placed on administrative leave at the time, someone would have asked, “Hey, where’s Coach Saxon?” By deliberately waiting, no one knew. Which kept the league from having to deal with a negative story about a coach being charged with domestic battery.

There’s a certain amount of hypocrisy in the league’s decision to take no action until it has to. The NFL will discipline employees and teams who fail to report incidents immediately. But the NFL will reserve the right to hide such incidents from the public, if they’re otherwise not generally known. Then, once someone reports on the issue, the league will do what it should have already done — but what it didn’t want to do because it preferred having no one know about the arrest.

14 responses to “James Saxon case proves that P.R. drives the Personal Conduct Policy

  1. Nfl is like minor league when compared to how the bar association disciplines it’s attorneys and medical review boards police themselves.

  2. The NFL chose to create an independent “Justice System” where PR has become more powerful than justice under the laws, rules and regulations of our society. The NFL is now reaping the harvest of its hubris. One day the victims of the NFL’s “Justice System” installed by Roger Godell will be seen as the persecuted victims of a commercial world gone insane. Remember when we could rely upon the Federal and State administration of laws and rules duly enacted by our representatives governing behavior of its citizens to define acceptable conduct? Roger Godell has usurped that right for anyone in the NFL. It seems unbelievable that people can be punished for actions that others can perform without any liability. The day will come when Congress dictates that a Collective Bargaining Agreement cannot revoke the rights of a unionized worker and public relations impact cannot supersede justice under the law. I can see punishment for breaking the law, but we’re now administering punishment for offending Godell’s sensibilities! Think about that! How many of us would want our superiors to pass judgment on our personal lives?

  3. The solution is simple what the NFL needs to do is have a focus made up of all the key demographics group and see what they think and then dole out the punishment accordingly

  4. While I agree with everything this article says, I have also always felt it has always been obvious that the NFL is about PR first and exclusively on pretty much everything. Nor have I ever seen denial or apology over those values, nor expected one. To me it just is what it is and its on me to understand the landscape when I process info from them.

  5. This begs the question: As Watson was getting rubbed the wrong way, who brought it to the media’s attention (McNair, Buzbee) and why (leverage on contract negotiation)?

  6. I mean I would kinda hope the fields of medical care and law would be more serious about self-policing than a football league

  7. shoepik says:
    August 5, 2022 at 8:41 pm
    Nfl is like minor league when compared to how the bar association disciplines it’s attorneys and medical review boards police themselves.

    This is an apples and oranges comparison. Doctors are responsible for the very lives of their patients. Attorneys protect people’s rights and freedoms.

    In contrast, the NFL has absolutely no effect on the public’s health or freedom. Therefore, there is no need for the league to have some type of policing system such the bar association or a medical licensure review board.

  8. The concept of the Personal Conduct Policy is based on the fallacy that it is a “privilege” to play in the NFL. It is not. Playing in the NFL is an occupation just like any other. No one is “privileged” to be a factory worker, fireman, attorney, or any other occupation. A person has the requisite intelligence and/or experience and is thus employed to do the job, no “privilege” is bestowed upon that person.

    The NFL originated and has perpetuated the “privileged” notion solely to elevate the league’s stature. The shinier the gladiators appear to be, the more the league is worshipped.

  9. shoepik says:
    August 5, 2022 at 8:41 pm
    Nfl is like minor league when compared to how the bar association disciplines it’s attorneys and medical review boards police themselves.

    Ya file a complaint against a doctor. Goes no where.

  10. Not sure how this differs from really anything. The media reports on what it deems fit and what drives clicks. Certain types of violence is hungered for the nightly news while others go ignored.

    By the way, playing in this league IS a privilege and 95% of the players could retire tomorrow without any notice not including home town fans. In football the ORGANIZATION is what truly matters, decades of history intertwined in families guarantee interest. If not, how could college possibly stay so popular despite a revolving door of talent? This isn’t the music industry or the NBA.

  11. I see no care of the NFL od PR, Watson has run free for over two years and the league still has not done the moral and correct response. One hand NFL wants women and applauds women in the other hand they slap them in the face. PR is just an excuse by the NFL for whatever the situation is.

  12. Roger Godell created this monster and now it’s out of control.

    He made the quintessential mistake of holding a group human beings to a higher standard than other human beings simply because of the job they do, while completely ignoring the fact that they are human beings who are by nature, born to make mistakes.

    It will only get worse because in all walks of life, somebody, somewhere is going to do something stupid. The only difference is in the NFL, that stupid act is compounded by an overreaction in the name of perceived justice.

  13. I don’t understand why they waited when it was going to come out publicly anyway. Just rip off the band-aid and be done with it.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.