09/29/2014 02:36 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2014

A September Contrast: Classy Jeter vs. NFL Misfit 'Switch' Hitters

September is usually a time in American sports when devoted sports fans are treated to both baseball pennant races and the start of the NFL season. Traditionally, it's a time when stars are born and veterans build their legacies.

September 2014 has been a bit different, a season of contrasts.

On one hand, the conduct of football players in their private lives has raised questions about the NFL's efforts to police its players and the integrity of the sport.

On the other, there's been a celebration of the retirement of New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who is admired for the athletic skills, leadership and maturity he displayed over his long career.

The contrast between players like Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who knocked his fiancé unconscious in a hotel elevator, and three other NFL players recently accused of violence, and the usually charming Jeter should serve as the beginning of a discussion about how professional athletes should be taught to behave both on and off the field.

The NFL has taken a beating not only for its poor handling of Rice's conduct, but also for condoning for decades domestic violence by its players.

Remember defensive superstar Lawrence Taylor whose career was marked by violence and drug and alcohol arrests? Daily headlines centered not only on his actions but also on whether the NFL and other professional sports organizations have a duty to control the off-field conduct of their players.

Professional sports should be about playing the game. Leagues and teams should not have to police their employees to assure they behave properly when they are not at work. By the time a player reaches the professional ranks, he or she should have learned how to treat others with respect.

It's naïve to expect leagues and teams to have job descriptions that require moral behavior of the thugs and social misfits who play football in particular.

All this off-field violence is not the fault of the NFL. American society fosters it, particularly rabid sports fans.

Just look at the Florida State University football program that allows Jameis Winston to play despite his repeated misconduct.

That's where the Jeter contrast comes in. What made Derek Jeter a role model off the field? It was his upbringing by parents who taught him to work hard and behave properly. He had great parents to thank for that.

Every year from the time he was a kid until he graduated high school, Derek had to sign a contract drawn up by his father. He would be permitted to play baseball only if he complied with all 18 clauses, including "no arguing," "no alcohol and drugs," and "respect girls."

If Americans want more Derek Jeters in professional sports, then demanding that leagues weed out violent players isn't the answer.

Instead, Americans need to teach good behavior and provide mentors to kids in little leagues, high schools and colleges. Today, many ambitious coaches coddle violent kids if they help the team win.

It's time not only for the NFL, but also for parents and coaches to teach youngsters that when they become adults, they should not beat their kids and spouses.

Published in Context Florida on September 29, 2014

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary ( and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.