Through enhanced nutrition and training techniques, the NFL specifically trains a young man for power and strength. He is able to ward off massive tacklers. His right arm is able to exert tremendous force. When his tiny 4- year-old son misbehaves, his idea of appropriate discipline is to get a branch from a tree and beat his son with such power that deep bruises are highly visible some time later, including in the genital area. And this conduct is what is being debated in the third week of the NFL season. Something is wrong here.
I have spent 40 years working with NFL players who understand their power as role models. They can be a force for triggering imitative behavior. By setting up high school and college scholarship programs, and foundations in the professional cities that target certain societal ills, they can make a positive difference. I have had a few less-than-stellar citizens, but $800 million has been raised for charitable and community causes.
The NFL has gone through a traumatic few weeks and it is time for it to start setting the example for decent public behavior. When the league leads in an area as it has in its fight against breast cancer, it can be a force for good. When my client Lennox Lewis cut a public service announcement that said "Real Men Don't Hit Women," or Steve Young and Oscar De La Hoya “Prejudice Is Foul Play,” they impacted young adolescents in a way few authority figures could. An issue like bullying can be tackled by athletes at the NFL level showing high school athletes how to set the example.
Powerful men have to be especially careful not to put their hands on others in anger. The commissioner has all the power he needs to discipline current athletes without waiting for the results of a trial. The personal conduct policy reads, “Persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid conduct detrimental to the integrity and public confidence in the National Football League." This applies to the players. It goes on to say, "It is not enough simply to avoid being guilty of a crime."
The commissioner has the power to initiate an investigation "upon learning of conduct that may give rise to discipline” in situations where “conduct undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL.” The commissioner has fairly wide latitude. "Discipline may take the form of fines, suspension or banishment from the league.” There generally will be a hearing and a right of appeal.
Commissioner Goodell has had a very successful reign, especially from an owner perspective. Franchise value has soared, the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement reduced player share of the gross and insured labor peace. There are new television contracts, social media revenue, record television ratings and revenue-producing stadia.
The NFL is the most successful entertainment franchise in this country. Fans are able to bifurcate off-field problems from their enjoyment of the game, and they watch and attend in record numbers. But this crisis threatens the moral integrity of football.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.