The NFL is currently engaged in annual winter owners' meetings, and one big bit of news came out. The league announced on Wednesday that owners had approved an updated personal conduct policy. The new policy was developed in the wake of the league's awful handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence situation. You can read the full policy here, and check out a flowchart here (both PDFs).
The NFL issued a press release listing out the parties they consulted in creating this policy. That included the NFL Players Association. However, the NFLPA was not pleased with their participation. The NFL spoke to them, but it would appear the league moved on from those discussions and then did what they wanted to do with this conduct policy. The NFLPA issued a statement following the release of the new policy:
Our union has not been offered the professional courtesy of seeing the NFL's new personal conduct policy before it hit the presses. Their unilateral decision and conduct today is the only thing that has been consistent over the past few months.
The league is looking to institute leave with pay when a party is charged with a crime of violence OR, an investigation by the NFL leads the commissioner to believe the party may have violated the policy. The league will conduct its own investigations, and not simply rely on police. It's fine and all that they will conduct investigations, but has the NFL done anything to make us believe they can be trusted in their handling of situations? We already saw their mishandling of the Ray Rice situation.
And of course, there is remains the issue of Roger Goodell's role in punishment. The league will hire a new employee to oversee discipline, and mete out punishment. The problem is that Goodell retains his power to hear the appeal of that punishment. The new policy does allow for the commissioner to name a panel that consists of independent experts to participate in deciding an appeal. Here is what Goodell had to say (try not to spit out whatever you're drinking):
"These high standards will be upheld through a rigorous process, one that is clear, formal, consistent and transparent, that includes due process for league investigations, the addition of an advisory group of experts, and a new disciplinary officer," Goodell said. "This will be a highly qualified individual with a criminal justice background, hired for the newly created position of assistant counsel for investigations and conduct - the person who will oversee our investigations and decide the discipline for violations of the policy."
The league is trying to clean up their perception problem, but by not formally including the players in developing this new policy, they do not seem quite as concerned about actually fixing the problems. The owners want to make sure they keep people tuning in to football and commercials. They thought people would be fine with how they handled the Ray Rice situation, but when it blew up in their face, they scrambled to fix that perception. The average NFL fan will probably see this new policy, figure the NFL has done enough, and move on to continue watching football.
I did not expect the league to bargain with the NFLPA on this issue, if they could avoid it. The league has a strong upper-hand in their relationship with the NFLPA, and if the league can avoid collective bargaining on an issue, they will do that. I can't really blame them given the one-sided relationship we see between players and owners. But that doesn't make it any better.
One of my favorites about the new policy is the implementation of an ownership conduct committee to review the policy at least annually, and recommend appropriate changes. The highlight is that one representative is Dee Haslam, wife of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. For those not aware, Jimmy Haslam's company, Pilot Flying J, was fined $92 million for cheating customers. The company agreed to a settlement with the US Attorney's office, "accept[ing] responsibility for the criminal conduct of its employees, ten of whom have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme."
Jimmy Haslam may very well have had no knowledge of these inner-workings of his company, but consider me skeptical. And considering how poorly the NFL has handled a lot of this, it is kind of fitting that they included the wife of a guy whose company cheated customers.