Is NFL Commish’ Goodell losing his big stick?

With Vince Young, Cedric Benson and Michael Vick avoiding suspensions, is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell losing his big stick?

Big Ben wouldn’t say so and neither would Detroit Lions exec Tom Leywand who was hit with a 30-day suspension and a $100,000 fine by the NFL for his recent DUI arrest but look at some of the history of the league’s policy and how Goodell may be slacking off a little bit.

One of the earliest acts of Goodell was his enactment of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy in April 2007.  This was in response to what had been a particularly disturbing season of player conduct issues in 2006.  Although the policy has been strongly defended by many members of the NFL it has faced equally as strong opposition from others.  This has left many wondering about how it is determined that a player or staff member be suspended.

Chris Henry and Adam “Pacman” Jones were the first two players to feel the wrath of the policy when they were both hit with suspensions shortly after the policy was enacted on April 10, 2007.  Henry was suspended for the first eight games of the season while Jones was forced to sit out for the entire season.

Henry was suspended following five arrests in the span of 28 months and a two game suspension late in the 2006 season.  He was warned that further arrests or off-field issues could result in the end of his career as an NFL player.

Jones was suspended following ten separate interviews with police in his short career.  His most recent offense before the suspension came in a strip club brawl in February 2007 that left one man paralyzed. 

Following an altercation with his bodyguard at a Dallas hotel on October 8, 2008, Jones was again suspended for the minimum four games for violations of the conduct policy.  Jones was eventually released by the Dallas Cowboys and played briefly for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  He has since rejoined the NFL as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

One June 4, 2007, Tank Johnson was suspended for the first eight games of 2007.  This was in response to a misdemeanor weapon charge.  Johnson was required to spend 45 days in prison along with the four month sentence he was already serving for probation violations.

Among the most notable of the suspensions might be that of then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.  When police initially conducted a narcotics search of Vick’s property in April 2007, the wound up finding several animals that were part of an illegal dog fighting ring that Vick had established.

Vick was suspended indefinitely without pay by the NFL on August 24, 2007.  He would remain suspended while serving his jail sentence before being reinstated on July 27, 2009.  After being signed to a one year contract by the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick was allowed to play the final two preseason games of that year but was required to sit out the first two regular season games.

Donte Stallworth was suspended for the entire 2009 season following manslaughter charges for an incident that occurred in Miami on March 14, 2009.  Stallworth served 24 days of a 30 day sentence before being released from prison.  Stallworth was released by the Cleveland Browns and reinstated following Super Bowl 44.  He will be a member of the Baltimore Ravens for the 2010 NFL season. 

The latest to be suspended under conduct policy violations is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault at a Milledgeville, Georgia nightclub in March 2010.  Even though criminal charges have not been filed, Roethlisberger will miss the first six games of the 2010 NFL season.

Many have criticized the suspensions and stated they were too harsh when charges were never filed in some cases.  Many also point to the “spygate” incident in which members of the New England Patriots staff were caught videotaping defensive play calls of other teams following a September 2007 game against rival New York Jets. 

Coach Bill Belichick was never suspended but was fined $500,000.  Many were critical of no suspension being handed down even though videotaping is not listed as a violation in the policy.  Goodell later stated that the videotaping of the calls did not impact the game between the Patriots and the Jets – a game the Patriots won 38-14. 

Though Benson, who is mentioned earlier, was recently forced to meet with Goodell due to his arrest for assault with bodily injury, he was not suspended for personal conduct violations.   Jets receiver Santonio Holmes was recently suspended for the first four games of the regular season although it was in response to the substance abuse policy of the NFL. 

Tennessee Titans quarterback Young was recently cited for assault after a strip club brawl in Dallas but will not be suspended for any length of time from that offense. 

For the sake of clarity, one can only hope that Goodell will provide clarification in the future in regards to the reasons for suspensions or lack of suspensions.  If certain players are to be suspended without charges and others will walk free there seems to be some explaining that should be in order.

And should a personal conduct policy really be in place for current NFL players?  If a retired player or someone such as a general manager makes a colossal mistake it will still reflect negatively on the image of the NFL even if they aren’t on the field of play every Sunday.

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Used with permission of the author.

Cade Caldwell is an Atlanta-based sportswriter and contributor to Sports Climax.

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