THE BLOG
06/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NFL Personal Conduct Policy: Morality Legislation or Employee Code

Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Pittsburgh Steelers QB, Ben Roethlisberger violated the NFL's personal conduct policy. The quarterback will be punished for that violation via a suspension for a maximum of six games, which could be reduced based on his behavior during the off-season.

Goodell mentioned multiple incidents and a pattern of bad behavior as the factors that helped make the final decision on Big Ben. But there is nothing in the policy that requires the league to wait until the bad acts mount up.

In part it says: "It is not enough simply to 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 and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the League is based, and is lawful."

In other words, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If the league and a player's team look at the facts and decide they don't pass the smell test, that person is going to be sitting down for a number of regular season games.

Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously struggled with trying to determine whether a motion picture was considered hard core pornography. The pertinent portion of his decision is:

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

Under the NFL's Code of Conduct the only question that is relevant is if the behavior "promotes the values upon which the League is based", and oh yeah, it better be lawful. I'm as much an NFL junkie as the next person but I'll be darned if I know what values were chosen to base a football league on. Would I know it "when I see it"?

Was the league based on the values of a traditional family structure? Adults producing children who were born within a marriage would likely fit that bill. How does the NFL look at its players who father children out of wedlock?

We don't know, do we? No one has gotten suspended for having children by women with whom they don't live. Not even Antonio Cromartie, newly traded to the New York Jets, who has seven children with women spread across five or six states.

Cromartie needed a cash advance on his 2010 salary in order to pay back-due child support payments. If he violated a court-ordered support agreement resulting in a judgment being levied against him and his salary being garnished would that rise to the level of a violation of the policy?

Cromatie is at one end of the spectrum and Tom Brady is at the other end. Brady, a league darling and three-time Super Bowl champion, fathered a child by a former girlfriend. He moved on, found the lovely Gisele Bundchen, and is now married to her with a son born of that marriage.

Did the fact that Brady clearly didn't want to stick around to "do the right thing" with his former lover promote a league value?

Although the press reported on both Cromartie's and Brady's situations, those men didn't fall victim to the tabloid press and fill hours on end for sports talk radio programs. The Ben Roethlisberger case did.

In addition, neither Cromatie nor Brady had a district attorney relate titillating details of a sexual encounter that included using the phrase. "vaginal bruising". There was no grim picture painted of these NFL players having sex with their baby mamas in the dirty bathroom of a college town bar. Unfortunately for Big Ben, even his own big ben was reported as being on the loose that night in the bar.

The district attorney specifically said that he couldn't prove a case of sexual assault or rape. He boldly declared the set of facts as being a morals case, not one that rose to the level of criminality. If that is true and the league has reacted in this manner, then what is the level of moral outrage necessary to say that a player has violated the conduct policy?

Those of us who work or have worked in corporate America know that employee codes of conduct cover misconduct that might result in someone being fired. Sometimes, if the company has a high public profile, misconduct could be defined by the perception of customers or shareholders.

That seems to be the case with the NFL. When their personal conduct policy uses general phrases about values, you have to wonder if they really mean only misconduct that is brought to the attention of the public whose values the league thinks might be offended.

If not, then what about the child out-of-wedlock situation? Has that truly become acceptable everywhere the NFL has planted its flag? Surely a case like that of Antonio Cromartie hits the bulls eye for being offensive to most. Yet, neither Tom Brady or Cromartie are in the cross-hairs of Commissioner Goodell.

The proverbial slippery slope has already been found and the NFL is flying down one side. We understand that a line has to be drawn by the Commissioner when his employees act badly. I just wonder whose sensibilities have to be affected -- and if it takes a law enforcement investigation -- to trigger punishment. Oh, and whether we'd all know a violation if we saw one.

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