What We Learned from the NFL’s Disciplinary Policy: Better to Hurt Yourself Than to Hurt Others

Vikings HelmentFor those sports fans watching closely this week it was a momentous time for the National Football League’s vaunted Personal Conduct Policy:  running back Adrian Peterson was suspended for the rest of the season after pleading guilty to whooping (the term the former Viking used) his four-year-old son while wide receiver Josh Gordon, illness possibly the most famous stoner since Cheech and Chong, medicine returned after serving a 10 game suspension.

Before I go any further, let me first state that I still believe it’s better to be a good guy, like Peyton Manning, and stay out of trouble all together. But if you have to get in trouble, what do the actions this week of Roger “The Punisher” Goodell and the NFL tell us about potential disciplinary actions at home, at school, or in the workplace? It says it’s better to hurt yourself (getting caught smoking weed for the hundredth time) than to hurt someone else (for example, Mr. Peterson and Mr. Ray Rice).

It probably doesn’t hurt Josh Gordon’s case that there was no video of him sitting around with his friends while they got high and somehow magically raised his THC levels (although it probably would have looked like a scene from the movie “Half Baked).  America’s love affair with marijuana has now moved to past common acceptance and is actually moving toward full blown legalization in many states. It probably won’t be long before a professional athlete has his name attached to a brand of high priced weed.

In some regards, alcohol is along the same lines with the example this week of Jaguar’s CB Dwayne Gratz stumbling drunk into a convenience store and trying to pay for his purchases with gum. With booze though, you do have to be careful that your not also driving. A DUI is one thing, but running into a minivan full of nuns is quite another. The same would go for how you are arrested, especially if it is caught on camera: stumbling and mumbling into the police car, or charging after the cops like a lunatic while stark naked in the middle of the street where they have to taser you? Still though, you hurt only yourself and you’ll probably get a slap on the wrist.

Visual evidence is incredibly important these days, as Mr. Ray Rice has found out. Not that domestic violence or child abuse are trivial matters, but the key in these NFL cases seems to be the role of public opinion. And public opinion appears to be heavily influenced by video images from security cameras that get played over and over again in the national media. So, if you are going to hurt someone else, the message seems to be to do it where there are no cameras around. I think it also helps to at least appear that you are remorseful for your actions. It seems that both Peterson and Rice have taken the attitude that they are really just misunderstood and if we only knew the real circumstances of the situation we’d be on their side.

Even if that was somehow true, the reality is that the public will form its own opinions and once they have determined your guilt you should accept that judgement, admit your guilt, and beg for mercy.  We also have to believe that you’re a changed man and something like this will never, ever happen again. Fortunately for Josh Gordon, most of us are already expecting him to get caught with weed again in the near future and have already forgiven him.

Hey, I never said it was fair, just the current reality in the NFL. Whether that applies in your home, school, or workplace remains to be seen, but it sure looks like a precedent has been set.