There has been growing unrest among NFL players since the current 10-year collective bargaining agreement was negotiated five years ago at the start of training camp. It was a chaotic time in the league, but as time has passed, and revenues have increased substantially, much of the focus of a disconnect between players and the league office has focused on the discipline within the personal conduct policy.
That policy was strengthened two years ago after public outcry following the domestic-abuse suspension of then-Ravens running back Ray Rice, a story that rampaged out of control when a tape surfaced of Rice’s actions with his then-fiancee and current wife.
The story was fueled because Rice was a marquee player. If he wasn’t, it’s unlikely a tape would have been offered to TMZ, much less gone viral. Numerous suspensions had occurred prior to Rice, but commissioner Roger Goodell was never criticized because most flew under the radar.
Not so with Rice, which has resulted in the belief Goodell has over-reached on discipline more because of public relations than in the interest of fairness.
A subsequent indefinite suspension of Rice after he had been put down for two games plus one game check, was eventually vacated when it went to arbitration. A 10-game suspension to defensive end Greg Hardy was reduced to four games.
And on and on it goes, leading to players making comments that fail to understand the dynamics of collective bargaining.
Redskins defensive tackle Kedric Golston wrote on mmqb.si.com in July, “Here’s the big problem with complaining about the rules as an NFL player: We agreed to it. What Goodell gets wrong in the eyes of many NFL players, and fans of aggrieved teams and favorite players, can often be chalked up to what we as players agreed upon in the collective bargaining process in 2011 during the lockout.
“I believe NFL players should be afforded the same due process that citizens enjoy in the courts, but that was collectively bargained. I don’t believe that the person who gives you the punishment should be the person you appeal that punishment to, but that was collectively bargained. I don’t believe players ought to be fined for actions during a football game unless they are done out of malice, but that was collectively bargained.”
Left out by Golston is Goodell has ceded his power to an arbitrator in matters pertaining to the substance-abuse and performance enhancing drugs policy. However, he has steadfastly refused to do the same for personal conduct or conduct detrimental to the game, under which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season.
It was Goodell who formalized a personal conduct policy after becoming commissioner. Nothing like it was there under the previous commissioners, Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle, in the modern era.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also chimed in recently on The Jim Rome Show, saying of Goodell’s powers, and echoing Golston, “We have nobody to blame but ourselves because we had the opportunity in the CBA to make some legitimate changes to that. I think there’s probably too much pressure to come back to a deal when we had all the power on our side and that was something we should have had negotiated into the CBA, because this shouldn’t be someone who is judge, jury, and executioner.”
While many would agree with the latter, the former couldn’t be further from the truth. The owners locked out the players in March, and the players clearly did not have “all the power.”
There are also two issues lost on many players:
*The problem isn’t that Goodell has the power, it’s how he uses it, or as many believe, misuses it.
*The reality is that had the players pushed hard for Goodell to relinquish his power, they would have had to give up something significant that would affect an enormous amount of players compared to the relative miniscule number who find themselves called to the principal’s office for conduct violations.
Consider this: There are currently 27 players on NFL rosters scheduled to begin suspensions as of the cutdown to 53 players on Sept. 3. Of that total, 13 are for substance abuse, nine for PEDs and only five for conduct. One of the five is Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who will miss three games as the result of his actions in his team’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh last January. However, in-game violations are not handled directly by Goodell, nor does he make the decision after the appeal process.
Taking into account only the 53 players on active rosters to start the season, and including those on injured lists or practice squads, those other four players represent just .002 percent of the workplace.
Does it then make sense to agree to concessions that would most likely negatively impact 100 percent of the players in order to gain something for such a low population? That answer is a simple one.
Meanwhile, there has already been some saber-rattling by Steelers guard Ramon Foster, the team’s player’s rep, suggesting players need to start saving money in preparation for a work stoppage in 2021 when the CBA expires.
Foster told espn.com, “It’s coming. They’ve hired certain people on their legal team, the NFL has, and we have to be the type of players and union that’s not borrowing money from banks and stuff like that to survive a lockout, a strike. That can’t happen this time around. We have to be smarter this time around because there are a lot of things we’re going to be fighting for and a lot of things they are going to want and we’re going to want, too.”
While also bemoaning the fact that drug test results are routinely leaked to the media — “it’s all over ESPN, Fox, the whole nine” — and adding about the discipline process, “It needs to be refined. It can’t just go through one person,” Foster also acknowledged that revenue, insurance and post-career care are some of the more important items to improve.
Which likely means only one thing: To make gains in those areas, it won’t be worth it to force the issue on the commissioner’s power.
At the end of the day, Foster and others can send a simple message to those who land in Goodell’s proverbial doghouse: Conduct yourself professionally, and there will be nothing to complain about.