The gray area surrounding the recent NFL Lockout still looms in the NFL. Cincinnati Bengals running back, Cedric Benson, is supposedly facing a three-game suspension violating the NFL’s player-conduct policy during the lockout. But, because the appeals process has just begun, Benson will be on the field for the time being.
The NFL has yet to announce the details of Benson’s suspension because “A player is not suspended until he has had an opportunity to file an appeal and for that appeal to be heard and adjudicated,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. However, the major hurdle in this case is the fact that Benson who is a member of the NFL Players Association, was unaware that the NFLPA and the NFL had decided to reprimand some of the players who had violated the league’s conduct policy during the lockout. Benson is inherently arguing that since the NFLPA was not a union during the lockout he cannot be regulated for behavior during that time. In fact, Benson is not the only player to have filed a claim; the NFL and a group of retired players all have made the same claim in various lawsuits because, the NFLPA took great measures to announce that they had decertified before the lockout began. Benson further argues that he was therefore not an employee of any team during the lockout. Benson’s situation is further complicated by the fact that he was not even employed by an NFL team, since his prior contract with the Bengals had expired.
So the question remains, should Benson and other athletes be punished for actions that occurred when they were not employees of the NFL or their respective teams? It is quite obvious to assume that the NFL was going to end its lockout at some point, given the amount of money that would be lost to numerous companies and entities. Could it be argued that NFL employees should have followed the code of conduct during the lockout given this assumption? If not, could players much like agents, have roamed the public arena like it was the Wild, Wild, West with no repercussions from their employers for their actions? However, if this is true, who were the employers of these players during this time?
A further problem could arise if Benson and other players are found to have violated the code of conduct policy. Some officials and commentators are arguing that the NFLPA let those individuals down by essentially selling out the fate of these players in order to make a deal. Some have suggested that those eight players should have received a pardon for their actions committed during the lockout as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But, what message does the NFL send if it does not mention or punish harmful conduct essentially done under their watch; is this an act of endorsement or just turning the other cheek on the issue? It seems that the NFL is in a lose-lose situation. If it makes an example out of players like Benson, then they face allegations of unethical conduct and shady bargaining tactics, as well as harming the current and future relationship with the NFLPA. However, if the NFL does nothing in response, they look weak and hypocritical. Time will tell where the NFL stands on this issue, but we will all be watching, including Cedric Benson.