Are you drafted and D-lined out? No me neither. This week, however, the NFL spotlight has shifted away from those two subjects on the heels of Tony Dungy's bonehead remarks and news that the league plans to unveil a new player conduct policy next week.
It's tough to say whether or not players' off-field conduct is truly worse than it was say 15 years ago; a contemporary media fixated on celebrity misbehavior certainly makes it seem like things are worse. It does seem like the past few months have been filled with lots of player gaffs on their own personal time, from Pacman Jones to Joey Porter to our own Dominque Byrd. Regardless of whether or not the league's got more Michael Irvins today than it did 15 years ago, a stricter off-field conduct policy is needed.
Since the NFL has become the most popular and highest grossing professional sport in the country, it's really tried to expand its appeal to broader audiences, and in the process has come to be seen as "family entertainment," whatever that is. The fallout from Nipplegate a few years ago proves that point. Like it or not, that's the way it is.
A conduct policy is an attempt to nip a whole lot of bad PR in the bud before fans start turning away from the sport as they see convicts being given sentences so leinient that they're still allowed to play football when the average citizen would spend time in jail. Look at the NBA. A number of people on the business side of professional hoops feel that the "thug" image has limited the league's appeal. Although David Stern might have gone a little far in trying to implement a dress code for players, the rationale behind it was pretty clear. There's clearly a racial component to all of this in how different segments of the country view others through the prism of stereotypes, but leave that discussion to the sociology classes.
The time has definitely come for the policy, and the NFL also gets credit for not making it a strictly punitive one. I don't know if I'd call it an education component, but I think the attempt to change the entitled and invincible mentality among a players who have been coddled and afforded special treatment all their lives because they could play football well will be an indispensable part of the new policy and, hopefully, prevent a number of incidents from happening in the first place.
The Rams have a mixed bag when it comes to dealing with this kind of stuff as a franchise. On one hand, the writing's on the wall for Dominque Byrd; although, his pending exile is likely more a result of on-field abilities not matching team needs. On the other hand, Leonard Little, one of the Rams' top defenders, wasn't suspended for DUI-related manslaughter in 1998 and was acquitted of another DUI in 2004. That acquittal kept him from a four year prison sentence because of Missouri's stiff law for repeat DUI offenders. As a fan, I'd hate to be without Little on the field, but if he's being punished for killing someone, I can certainly accept - and even support - the fact that he has to face some consequences.
The league is likely going to make an example out of Pacman Jones, maybe not under the new conduct policy, but the now infamous Las Vegas strip club incident will be remembered as the one that got the new conduct policy implemented. Any objection from the union or the player themselves are likely to dissipate in the wake of such a tumultuous offseason for player misbehavior. Titans site, Music City Miracles, reflects an attitude that I'm sure a lot of fans of teams with troubled players share:
Yes we shall see indeed.
Also - If you'd like to weigh in on the Tony Dungy issue, SBN's Colts site, Stampede Blue, has a discussion going.