New NFL policy looks harsh because things were so lax

The Baltimore Sun

I have been arrested several times during the past couple of years. I'd admit some were my fault but swear others were bogus - overzealous cops or me just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Might I expect the embarrassment I have caused The Miami Herald and its parent company to continue to be abided? Or should I think my employer may be justified to fire me or at least mete out a suspension or other discipline?

Welcome to the real world, NFL players.

Your "Get Out of Jail Free" card is hereby revoked.

(I should emphasize for the benefit of literal-minded readers and nervous Miami Herald editors that the first paragraph was for effect only. I have never been arrested, although if pressed I'd admit to my number of speeding tickets being slightly higher than ideal.)

The NFL's new personal conduct policy has kicked in about as subtly as a detective kicks in a door on a cop show. And it is good, right and overdue. It is a needed slap to any athlete in any sport at any level who thinks his speed and skill entitle him to act the fool and flout the law.

Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones is suspended for an entire year after 10 occasions of being questioned by police. Cincinnati receiver Chris Henry is suspended for eight games after four arrests within 14 months. Both without pay.

That's just the start.

Players who can't stay off police reports now will see their NFL future put in jeopardy, their reinstatement depending on clean records from here. Their teams will pay a price, too, possibly even forfeited draft picks.

Players coming out of college with off-field issues will be less and less attractive to the NFL. This should be a wake-up for high school stars set on a pro career, too.

New commissioner Roger Goodell, with the backing of the players union, arrives like an old-school sheriff to clean up the town.

Significantly, the NFL won't wait to step in. The new policy reads: "It is not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard."

Don't wave the Constitution. Please. The NFL is a business entitled to mind its image and set its standards. Just like my company or yours.

The predictable argument against the policy that annoys most is the one claiming it disproportionately targets black players because they are most apt to attract the police without cause: the DWB (Driving While Black) Theory.

It might be true in some cases. Mostly, it insults the vast majority of black players who somehow manage to stay on the right side of the law, who keep themselves out of situations that could attract police in the first place.

The policy doesn't demand perfection; it isn't aimed at a guy with an otherwise clean record who is involved in one minor incident. It is aimed at guys who repeatedly shame the league, their teams and by association all players.

"There is a point where repeat offenders have to be disciplined," Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor said during minicamp. Taylor never has been arrested. Doesn't make him a saint; makes him normal. "You have to draw a line and say, 'We can't tolerate that.' "

Goodell's message is simple: Your athletic gift extends you a privilege, not a right. Misbehave too much, your privilege will be taken away.

It tells you how lax we had gotten with athlete misbehavior, how numb to it, when the NFL's new policy is seen by some as such a hard line, as nearly revolutionary.

It's difficult for others of us to see the bar as being set so impossibly or unfairly high when the new policy distills to essentially this: You want to keep the job that pays you millions? Don't keep getting arrested.

Can you handle that, Mr. Player?

Greg Cote writes for The Miami Herald.

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