Two weeks ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talked the tough talk at league meetings and a subsequent breakfast at INVESCO Field at Mile High, informing reporters, business leaders and anyone who would listen that improving player conduct off the field was vital to the game’s survival — and that harsh penalties could be necessary for those who strayed, citing that as the key component of a three-pronged program.
“The last and most important piece is to make sure than when you do make the wrong choice, there’s a consequence, so we’ll be making discipline stronger, more aggressive and more clear going forward,” Goodell said on March 29.
Those were precisely the words many observers of the sport — and sports in general — wanted to hear.
At those late March gatherings in suburban Phoenix and downtown Denver, Goodell talked the talk. Tuesday, he walked the walk, handing down suspensions of one year to Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and eight games to Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry as a result of their repeated run-ins with law enforcement.
Both engaged “in conduct detrimental to the league on numerous occasions,” the NFL outlined in a press release issued before midday MDT on Tuesday.
“We must protect the integrity of the NFL,” Goodell said. “The highest standards of conduct must be met by everyone in the NFL because it is a privilege to represent the NFL, not a right.”
But these are suspensions, not lifetime bans. No appeal is required for each to return to the league upon completion of the suspension — which, in effect, is a stern, final warning to two players who were college teammates at West Virginia.
“I must emphasize to you that this is your last opportunity to salvage your NFL career,” Goodell wrote to Jones and Henry in a quote distributed via a league press release. “I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you in that effort.”
Their suspensions not only differ in length, but in the terms therein. Neither can practice during the regular season, but Henry can take part in offseason workouts and organized team activities, training camp and preseason games since he is scheduled to return at the campaign’s midway point, although when the regular season commences, he is not permitted to practice during the weeks leading up to the eight games of his suspension. Jones, on the other hand, cannot practice and is permitted just one day per week at Titans headquarters for conditioning and film study.
Both must meet with their team’s respective player-development directors on a weekly basis.
“Fortunately we have great players and people,” Goodell said, “but it’s reality that a few people can taint that image and it’s important that we deal with it in an aggressive fashion.”
These suspensions seem to do precisely that.