Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Analaysis of the NFL's Suspension of Pacman Jones, Chris Henry

Reports have had this coming for a few weeks now, but today, the other shoe finally dropped on the heads of Tennessee Titans cornerback (Adam) Pacman Jones and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry. The pair who have been in consistent trouble with the law in the past twelve months (and actually much longer than that) were issued stiff suspensions Monday "according to ESPN.

Adam "Pacman" Jones of Tennessee was suspended Tuesday for the 2007 NFL season and Chris Henry of Cincinnati received an eight-game suspension -- both for numerous violations of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

The two players are suspended without pay, the NFL announced. Jones will lose $1,292,500 -- his 2007 base salary -- as a result of the suspension. Henry will lose $204,705.88 in salary if the Bengals' bye week comes after Week 8. He will lose $230,294.12 if the Bengals' bye week falls in the first eight weeks of the season, meaning he will miss nine weeks of pay.

In many ways, this is the first big, loud pronouncement that the Paul Tagliabue era is over, and the Roger Goodell era has begun in the NFL. Goodell, who took over for Tagliabue when Tags retired last July, made it very clear leading up to today's suspensions that he was not happy with the image NFL players were portraying and that he was going to step in if NFL players did not turn their behavior around. Pacman Jones and Chris Henry didn't and they have paid the price in what is a very stern warning to all other NFL players that their bad behavior off-the-field will not be tolerated.

I applaud Goodell's decision. It was incredibly disappointing during the 2006 football season to continually hear every week about another player arrested for some crime or another. Drinking and driving. Weapons charges. Fights. Domestic Violence. The Cincinnati Bengals, for whom Henry plays, had more players arrested in 2006 than they sent to the Pro Bowl. Many more. In December, Bengals writer Mark Curnutte reviewed the 2006 rap sheet of Bengals players. It wasn't pretty. Charges included burglary, grand theft, providing alcohol to minors, spousal battery, resisting arrest, and DUI's. And this was just one team.

Henry himself was arrest three times (possession of a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and aggravated assault with a firearm, a DUI, and providing alcohol to minors were some of the charges levied against him) and in many ways is one of the two poster children for the bad apples of the NFL, which is why Goodell targeted him. Pacman Jones, on his own, has been involved in incidents involving police on 10 different occasions in the past year, including one at the NBA All Star Game in Las Vegas a few months back which may lead to felony charges and left one man paralyzed according to ESPN. Enough was enough. Something had to be done.

As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, one needs to "walk softly and carry a big stick." Well Roger Goodell took out that big stick today, and if the suspensions he levied were not harsh enough, his words were stinging too.
"We must protect the integrity of the NFL," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "The highest standards of conduct must be met by everyone in the NFL because it is a privilege to represent the NFL, not a right. These players, and all members of our league, have to make the right choices and decisions in their conduct on a consistent basis."

In a letter to each player, Goodell wrote: "Your conduct has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club, and the NFL, and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league. You have put in jeopardy an otherwise promising NFL career, and have risked both your own safety and the safety of others through your off-field actions. In each of these respects, you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFL and failed to live up to the standards expected of NFL players. Taken as a whole, this conduct warrants significant sanction."

Goodell is 100% right. These players are embarrassments. And maybe they aren't completely to blame. Pacman Jones had a horrendous childhood (his father was shot and killed when he was 10 and his grandmother, who helped raised him, died of cancer while Jones was in college) and the tragic incidents in his life would have a negative impact on anybody. But that does not excuse his current conduct, especially considering that he has not had one or two missteps, but instead, nearly a dozen.

Roger Goodell realizes that the National Football League is in a very precarious position right now. Yes, revenues are up exponentially, television contracts are at an all time high, there is relative labor peace, and football has become the nation's most popular sport. But, that grip on popular culture may not last, especially if fans get sick and tired of seeing players arrested and decide to do something more productive with their Sunday afternoons. If the NFL is going to continue to grow and continue to remain popular in the mainstream, the league has to show it is serious about improving its image and its standing in the community. And no matter how many United Way commercials the league does, when players are getting arrested on a weekly basis and players have to get permission from judges to play in the Super Bowl because they have been ordered not to leave the jurisdiction (as was the case of Tank Johnson, defensive tackle of the Chicago Bears) serious action has to be taken.

And today, Roger Goodell took that action, and maybe the next time an NFL player thinks about getting behind the wheel drunk or thinks about carrying a weapon to a nightclub, he'll think twice. And hopefully, the league ordered counseling and community service work Jones and Henry must complete will help them turn their lives around. Not just so they can play in the NFL in 2008 (or in Henry's case, the second half of 2007) but so they can become productive members of society off the field as well as on. Welcome to the Goodell era, where giving the NFL a black eye off the field will not be tolerated.

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