If there's one word that sums up the 2010 NFL season thus far, it's drama. Sure, some of the drama is good. There have been a lot of dramatic games (including a near-record 14 overtime finishes), and a lot of comebacks on the field. But there's also been a lot of extracurricular drama going down. These days there are enough tantrums and meltdowns in the NFL to rival bad reality T.V.
From Vince Young angrily throwing his jersey into the stands after a loss, Richard Seymour throwing a punch directly at Ben Roethlisberger's face, and Brett Favre sending naughty texts, the drama in the league is widespread and seems to escalate every week. It seems players have lost a basic sense of respect for their coaches, their teammates, and for the league itself. It begs the question, what is being done to stop it?
There's always been drama in the NFL, but it used to be more confined to the offseason. The in-season drama of yesteryear was generally centered on a few notorious players, some of who now, appropriately, have their own reality television show. Today, it seems no player is exempt from scandal. Brett Favre is a quarterback legend, Vince Young is a third-round draft pick quarterback, and Richard Seymour is a veteran defensive lineman who has been to five Pro-Bowls. All three are outstanding athletes, and all three have been troublemakers this season.
For the incidents mentioned above, punishments have been scantly doled out. The Brett Favre scandal investigation eventually died out. Favre didn't even receive a slap on the wrist from the NFL, although his reputation is arguably tarnished by the incident. Richard Seymour was ejected from Sunday's game after his punch, and it remains to be seen what the NFL will do with him. My guess is that he will be fined, but keep playing. Vince Young has lost his starting position, but that's somewhat of a moot point since he is injured. The Titans owner made a statement today that he "hasn't given up on Vince." The implicit message: you can behave badly, and if you're talented enough, we'll keep you around. That's certainly been the case for Michael Vick as well, although he did serve his time and take a massive pay cut upon his return to the NFL.
The NFL Commissioner has traditionally used fines and suspensions as consequences for bad behavior. Clearly, what they're doing isn't working. When a player earns $2 million per season, paying a $25,000 fine is a minor inconvenience. This is why there are repeat offenders in the league, like James Harrison. The fines accrue, but they don't change the behavior of the player. Being suspended from play is a more severe, effective punishment, but the NFL doesn't hand out suspensions as readily as they could.
When it comes to curbing bad behavior, head coaches also have a responsibility to their teams and to the league. Coaches can choose who starts in a game, who is benched, and who is demoted. Their decisions send a loud message to players about what types of behavior aren't acceptable, both on and off the field. Team owners can play a similar role. They readily fire coaches who don't perform up to par, so why not tell your coaches to fire players who misbehave?
Whether it's the NFL Commissioner, coaches, or team owners, somebody in the league needs to step up and put a stop to the drama in the NFL. The focus in the NFL should be the game of football, not the soap operas of individual player's lives. Keep it classy, boys.