The NFL, Player Conduct and Safety

Photo of Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston from businessinsider.com.

This isn’t a new discussion. For years, the NFL player conduct and overall safety policies have been under fire for various reasons. Inconsistent player disciplinary decisions and a failure to acknowledge and adapt to player safety concerns have been a hot topic amongst football fans for well over a decade.

Football is a dying sport. Yes, it is still far and away the largest and most popular sport in the United States, however, their fan base is slowly but surely diminishing. Part of the reason for their deteriorating state is the continued ethically questionable decision making and execution when it comes to handling politically sensitive issues as well as player safety.

Disciplinary Inconsistencies

Just last week, it was officially announced that Jameis Winston had been suspended for three games after groping an Uber driver in Arizona last season. This isn’t the first time the 24-year-old was accused of sexual misconduct. In a press conference last week pertaining to the situation, Winston’s “apology” came off as hollow and represented a complete lack of self-accountability.

“First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in,” Winston said. “It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize. In the past 2 1/2 years, my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life.”

Notice how he didn’t apologize for his actions, but for the “position” he put the driver in. Then he went on to blame alcohol instead of calling upon himself to be a better human being. This attitude isn’t uncommon. Paltry repercussions will do that. Players have smoked marijuana and received four or more games. In the eyes of the NFL, recreational pot usage is a more deplorable act that sexual assault. That in and of itself is unjustifiably outrageous.

Photo of Greg Hardy from sportsday.dallasnews.com.

The league has been equally lenient in terms of domestic abuse as well, allowing players like Greg Hardy to return to action after a gruesome domestic assault case. The assault wasn’t the first time Hardy abused his then-girlfriend, frequently threatening her with violence, even death. After a situation like that, it speaks toward the league’s general tone-deafness to have a player like that be allowed to participate in an NFL contest ever again.

The league has publicly expressed a desire to expand their market and attract more female viewers. Allowing their players to continually abuse women with little to no retribution is a representation of just how hollow that sentiment truly is. The NFL (and many of its fans) care more about publically shaming and humiliating a player who engages in peaceful protest than properly punishing violent offenders.

In a world that has become (and continues to be) more and more conscious of domestic issues and gender equality, the league has failed miserably to adapt their archaic policies to a changing political and cultural arena. It will contribute in a big way to their eventual demise if they continue to operate this way.

To be clear, the vast majority of players in the NFL conduct themselves in a respectable, and honorable manner. That being said, the lack of accountability on the part of the league, and the few bad apples who are repeat offenders who have been allowed to stay in the league are single-handedly ruining things for the rest of them. The rule-abiding (and law-abiding) players should be appalled at such leniency. It gives football players a bad name.

Photo of former NHL player Slava Voynov and wife from chicagotribune.com.

The NFL isn’t alone in their failure to hold players accountable for their actions. Just last week, the NHL allowed Slava Voynov to speak to commissioner Gary Bettman in a bid to re-enter the league after being banned in 2015. Voynov savagely beat his then-fiance in October of 2014, and ended up serving two months in prison for his actions. The fact that the NHL would even entertain the idea of allowing him back is shocking.

I guess hockey really “is for everyone,” even spousal abusers.

Player Safety Concerns

The concussion discussion/debate has raged on in the NFL for quite some time, and the league has done the absolute bare minimum to address the issue. Fortunately, with all of the information available regarding concussions and CTE, players are more focused on their long-term health. Every year, young players are calling it a career in their 20’s, citing concern over head trauma and life after football.

Photo of former Seahawk Kam Chancellor from KXLY.com.

All-Pro Safety, Kam Chancellor became the most recent retiree, citing a neck injury and concern over future neurological complications as his main reason for calling it a career.

Over the past five years, youth football registration has even taken a substantial hit in terms of overall participants as parents educate themselves about the realities of long-term, sustained head trauma.

Now let’s be clear; these are grown men. They have every right to subject themselves to the risks associated with playing a contact sport. This isn’t some call for touch or flag football. This is a direct criticism of the NFL’s arrogance and feinted ignorance on the topic, which has alienated a portion of the fanbase while deterring potential young fans from playing the game.

Through their attempts to ignore the problem, they have in fact diminished their following, stunting their own growth. At the end of the day, the NFL cares about one thing; the shield. They are an inwardly focused organization, failing to notice that their actions (or inaction in this case) have resulted in the demise of a league we all love.

It’s not too late for them to adjust, and retain their standing as the country’s most popular sport, but time is running out.

Editor’s babble: Bravo, Mr. Sciandra! The inconsistencies with which the NFL dispenses “discipline” is mind-boggling at times. Many thanks for sharing your insightful opinion. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.

*Views expressed by authors are their own and may or may not be consistent with the opinions of the owners of the BillsMafia.com website.

About Anthony Sciandra

I'm a passionate Buffalo sports fan, former amateur pugilist, and UB alum. Born and raised in Western New York.