David Stern has taken a page from Roger Goodell with the indefinite suspension of Gilbert Arenas from the NBA and the Washington Wizards after Arenas brought guns into the Wizards' locker room and brandished them with a teammate.
Perhaps the most important task of any commissioner of any league is to uphold the moral integrity of the game. The commissioner must, above all else, insure that there is public confidence in the product, that there is integrity to the games, and that their game is one that fans, media, sponsors and partners can embrace without trepidation. This is all why the personal conduct of the players has become such an issue in both the NFL and NBA over recent years.
Both Commissioner Goodell and Commissioner Stern are keenly aware that the image of its players is paramount. The possession and flaunting of guns - and all the violent and gang-related images that come along with that - is at or near the top of the list of what the commissioners feel they need to legislate. Indeed, there is even language written into the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement that specifically deals with guns.
The actions of Stern follow those of Goodell as Stern did not wait for a judicial disposition of the criminal charges against Arenas before imposing his suspension. Although law enforcement authorities in Washington D.C. are have been actively reviewing the case, there has been no filing of charges, let alone a conviction, at this point.. No matter, say the actions of Stern. The integrity of the game is at stake and Arenas must face discipline immediately.
When I was with the Packers, we signed a talented but troubled receiver named Koren Robinson, a one-time top ten NFL draft choice. At the time of signing, Robinson was facing DUI charges in Minnesota and we were concerned that he might face a suspension. No worries, said the agent and attorney for Robinson. The NFL does not suspend players, they said, prior to a criminal case winding its way through the legal system, and Robinson's court case was not even scheduled until after the season.
However, what they did not tell us was that there was a new sheriff in town. Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a longtime lawyer, had always waited to impose discipline until the legal and judicial process had run its course. The new Commissioner, Roger Goodell, was not interested in waiting for some defense attorney's delay tactics until the playing season would be over.
Robinson had a hearing by conference call on a Tuesday; he was suspended for a year on Wednesday. As per the discipline, the evidence from police reports about alcohol on Robinson's breath was enough to warrant violation of his protocol in the Substance Abuse policy and enough for the commissioner to impose discipline, the judicial calendar notwithstanding. In fact, Robinson's DUI case was eventually thrown out, although that did not affect his suspension.
Robinson was the first of several players disciplined by Commissioner Goodell -- as per the NFL Personal Conduct Policy -- based on the information that he had, despite the lack of final adjudication of the player's legal situation. As for any appeal, the Commissioner or his designer hears them. This is yet another issue in the collective bargaining negotiations, as the NFLPA feels the NFL has become draconian in its handling of these matters.
Now Stern has followed suit. Arenas - a known goofball who clearly acted without thinking rationally in bringing firearms from his home to his place of employment - may have sealed his own fate with the commissioner. Following the massive (negative) publicity about the incident, Arenas was introduced at the subsequent Wizards game and did some gun-shooting display with laughing teammates. That was enough for Stern. Arenas will sit, perhaps through the season.
Although I am a long-suffering Washington Bullets/Wizards fan and a fan of Arenas, I am not suggesting that what he did has any defense. However, when a player is disciplined without any action from law enforcement and/or the justice system, one wonders about due process. Not that Arenas had any valid and defensible reasons to bring weapons into the locker room, but there may be more to the story than we know.
There is also word that the Wizards were looking into the possibility of voiding the 111M contract that Arenas signed last year. Unlike an NFL contract, it is 100% guaranteed, or perhaps it is not depending on the Wizards' view. The NBA Players Association will certainly have something to say about that should it happen.
Stern felt he had to act, as has Goodell on numerous occasions. The questions to be asked are: Should there be an independent arbiter hearing the appeal by the player, as with team discipline? Are these suspensions working in the goal to maintain and restore the public integrity of the game?
What do you think?