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The NFL isn't hurting because of character issues

In a way, I'd rather root for Barry Bonds to break Hank Aaron's all-time homer record than read another character saturated story for the upcoming NFL draft. Not because I'm a Bengals fan. Rather is laced with gossip-style angles, unwanted righteousness and hypocriticals. You won't draft someone with limited talent simply because you're worried about conduct issues -- you're going to draft the best available and find bargains in the later round. There's so much pressure on teams to win today, that its become the most efficient, win-now, business model. And I find just as much fault with the league who'd rather punish, punish, punish than take a proactive approach and eliminate the door in which conduct issues enter the league.

Furthermore, how do you draft character? Do you only account for past transgressions? Or do you just assume by responses in a player/coach interview? Chris Henry never had off-the-field issues while in college -- rather he was suspended for his actions on the field... being a baby wide receiver (which fits the majority of receivers in the NFL). Wouldn't Henry still be drafted in the third round simply because of his two-game suspensions based on his "dick" like reaction on the field and comments to the press? He wasn't arrested -- which is the foundation for the aggressive personal conduct policy. If we replay the 2005 draft, with the current personal conduct policy, wouldn't Henry STILL be drafted? Especially as a bargain?

In fact, couldn't you make a case if Chris Henry were drafted, that he'd be less of a character risk than Brandon Meriweather, Marshawn Lynch or Marcus Thomas? Or how about the famous three that admitted to smoking pot automatically grouping those guys into character bugs because of enjoying the chronic.

Now you've opened a pandora's box. A player's history will be scrutinized and privacy will be a right that's turned left. College players entering the draft will have more background checks than a candidate for the President of the United States. And the NFLPA chief isn't happy about that.

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw reached out to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday to address a leak of information regarding the reported admission by at least three highly regarded players that they smoked marijuana at some point in their lives.


NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said late Friday afternoon that Goodell had spoken to Upshaw, though he would not elaborate on details of the discussion. However, Aiello did say the NFL is within its legal rights to ask prospects during interviews whether they've used banned substances, but that such an admission isn't grounds for inclusion into the league's substance-abuse program.

Welcome to the first pages of the potential breakdown of Union peace... all because of the mainstream urgency to find character issues buried deep within a player's past. If you're arrested as a six-grader after you were double-dog-dared to steal a bag of M&Ms, then expect to find that on your rap sheet in the NFL prospect pages.

Herm Edwards is concerned about vampires, apparently.

"You know talented players help you win, but immature players can help you lose," Kansas City Coach Herman Edwards said. "It's not only young guys but veteran guys, too. . . . Nothing good happens after 12 o'clock."

Only if Billy had heard your words of wisdom before feeding the Mogui's off-spring a bucket of chicken. At least don't give them water or they'll multiple. Please. For the integrity of the game!

The Sports Curmudgeon makes a good point: "My word of caution for Commissioner Goodell comes from the travesty of the Duke Lacrosse Fiasco." In other words, simply because a player is arrested, make sure you obtain the facts before judgment. And don't be reactionary. Although, that might be too late as the personal conduct policy states, "conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL will be subject to discipline, even if not criminal in nature." Basically, if you embarrass the league, you're done for young man.

What about Joe Thomas? He should worry because he's ticking off chancellor Goodell by rejecting "invitations" to travel to New York for the NFL draft. Thomas is joining his pops for their annual draft day fishing trip. Good for Thomas, but he might be suspended two games for not adhering to the commissioner's demands. (I kid)

There will be psychologists soon grading college players as part of the combine playing the role of Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Character issues have hijacked the NFL's off-season. The dog and pony show by the commissioners office to throw out an arbitrary number of games suspended between Pacman Jones and Chris Henry proves to be reactionary. Sure, an example needed to be set to prove to the player's that "we mean business". But how was this number obtained? And do you punish someone more for the number of arrests rather than the seriousness of one? Make your comparisons between Chris Henry and Tank Johnson and tell me where you find suspensions to be fair? And why would Goodell need to interview Johnson? He's already been convicted and is serving time. Would the jail sentence take place of suspensions? Would it benefit a player to just serve time in the off-season not to miss any time on the field?

I'm not naive either. Character issues are embarrassing to the league and tends to anger the world's most emotional fans -- outside of futbal. It can even hamper a team's roster putting them behind the eight-ball when the talent is suspended.

The Union Tribune published a story saying "there have been 308 arrests or citations, not including minor traffic infractions" in the NFL.

Of those 308 incidents:
  • The most prevalent charge was driving under the influence, which accounted for almost a third of the arrests. Over half of all incidents came after traffic stops or were vehicle-related, including DUIs and searches that turned up drugs or guns.
  • Almost 40 percent (122) were committed by 50 players with multiple arrests, including DUI and other offenses.
  • Some teams are clearly better behaved than others. The St. Louis Rams (three incidents involving two players) might have something to teach the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals, who combined for at least 44 incidents since 2000.

Here's their NFL arrested list. Note that players remain on this list even after the case was "dropped" much less resolved, or found innocent. Witch-hunt?

But the one thing that character issues are not doing, is hurting the sport as most blindly suggest.

The NFL announced in March that paid attendance hit a record for the fifth straight season. There was a 400,000 attendance increase between 2005 and 2006. Fans are filling the seats because the talent keeps increasing. It's incredible entertainment and the fans are showing up for it. You may have hate the Randy Moss of Minnesota, but you sat in awe for his talents. As a Bengals fan, you may dislike Henry (big-time!), but his talent is responsible for 16% of the Bengals touchdowns for the past two seasons -- scoring in 55% of the career games he's played in.

When the NFL signed the first major television deal in 1982 with NBC, CBS and ABC, the networks paid a total of $420 million per year. That number has gone up with each expiring contract. In 2006, CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN paid a total of $3.735 billion -- a $1.535 billion increase from the previous contract when character issues were being shown as headlines on SportsCenter.

Advertisers are paying more now than ever. During Super Bowl XLI (2006), advertisers spent more than $2.6 million for a 30-second spot. That's already after nearly a million bucks spent to create the commercial. Granted, it's the Super Bowl and the cost for an ad will always be high. But no sponsor or advertiser has removed their product from Paul Brown stadium after the season-long cops episode.

So while we get excited to string up players for the conduct issues, let's face some unanswered questions here for a moment.

  1. How are you going to draft character? Arrests during college? Interview process? Will you be able to predict that a player with no history of conduct issues be clean for their entire career? Furthermore, if you draft a player with a clean history, how can the team be responsible for a player's actions, as per Roger Goodell.
  2. What exactly, in the NFL, is hurting because of conduct issues? Image? Image is perception and based off an individual's point of view. What's not hurting is the league's revenue, ratings or attendance as some weakly generated arguments contend.
  3. Will the added, in-depth, background checks create a problem between the Union and the League? Will the loss of privacy for all, with leaked reports over stupid and minor issues, create a division?

While I'm sure conduct issues are on top of your mind, the questions of the league's future and health also needs to be addressed. And lets face facts, the league isn't suddenly sick because of an image problem.