We all know about the “personal conduct” policy that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put in place since the 2006 collective bargaining agreement. In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, it allows Goodell to fine and suspend players that damage the NFL “shield.”
The most notable of Goodell’s suspensions was Michael Vick, suspended two years while serving jail time for dogfighting. Then there was Ben Roethlisberger suspended four games for allegations of sexual misconduct. Roethlisberger was not charged criminally for the allegations.
Players have been outraged with the personal conduct policy, feeling it gives the commissioner carte blanche to be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to players and their off-field issues. Pacman Jones, who had been arrested numerous times but was only convicted of misdemeanors, has also run afoul of the personal conduct policy and been subject to Goodell’s discipline. The personal conduct policy was to be a point of contention in this year’s past collective bargaining negotiations, with the NFL Players Association hoping to wrestle some of the control from Goodell in the new agreement.
When the league and its owners imposed a lockout on the NFL players, barring them from facilities and team functions, many wondered if the personal conduct policy would remain in effect. Since they couldn’t represent their teams, how could the policy still apply to them? Like most off seasons, a few players found their way into trouble, but it was unknown if they would face discipline from the commissioner when the lockout ended.
An earlier report stated that after the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified no players who had legal issues during the lockout would be disciplined. However, Yahoo Sports obtained a letter dated August 4 (the day after the lockout) that shows the NFLPA and NFL came to an agreement on eight players, deeming them eligible to be disciplined under the personal conduct policy.
Two players on the list, Kenny Britt and Squib Talib, met with Goodell last month and were not disciplined.
However, Cedric Benson, who was convicted of assaulting a former teammate and has already served his jail sentence, was suspended three games by the league for his conviction. He is appealing the ban on the grounds that “the league does not have the right to punish players for events that occurred during the lockout.” Benson is also pursuing an action against the NFLPA, alleging that the union did not properly represent the rights of the eight players named in the document.
Benson filed the charge with the National Labor Relations Board, based in part that he was an unrestricted free agent and not a member of one of the league’s 32 teams, therefore not subject to the personal conduct policy.
The eight players on the list were all deemed “repeat offenders” and subject to the personal conduct policy during the lockout period of March 12- August 3. All other players that ran afoul of the law would not be fined or suspended. As noted above, Benson is appealing the three-game suspension, which is due to start soon, on the grounds that he wasn’t subject to the rules.
It’ll be interesting to see how the appeal process, which could set precedent for future cases, plays out in the next few weeks.