Terrelle PryorThis week, the NFL decided to take another stand to protect the integrity of the game by upholding  the five-game suspension for Terrelle Pryor.   NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated in a news release that he felt Terrelle Pryor had taken intentional steps to ensure that he would be ineligible to play in college.  Goodell further stated that he felt that “this conduct was tantamount to a deliberate manipulation of our eligibility rules in a way that distorts the underlying principles and calls into question the integrity of those rules.”  While NFL cites integrity as a reason for punishing players; the question remains, does the NFL hold coaches and owners to the same standard?

When it comes to player transgressions, the NFL is quick to suspend players.  Commissioner Goodell has made a name for himself by handing out big suspensions to players for first and second time offenses.  Now with Terrell Pryor’s suspension, the NFL has made another statement.   It will suspend players for things they did while they were not members of the NFLPA.  However, this is not a shock to most people who have watched Commissioner Goodell work.  Earlier this week the NFL stated it would take action against players for misconduct during the lockout this summer.  These players include Tennessee Titan Kenny Britt, Tampa Back Buccaneer Aqib Talib, Cincinnati Bengal Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengal Adam “Packman” Jones, and New England Patriot Albert Haynesworth.

While players are hit with suspensions, teams like the Cincinnati Bengals are allowed to continue to employ players with legal troubles without being held accountable for their lack of integrity.  Since 2000 there have been 498 NFL players arrested.  Of those players, 31 have played for the Bengals which leads the league for any team.  Other repeat offenders include teams like Minnesota (30), Jacksonville (25), Denver (25), Pittsburg (16), and Miami (24).  Even this weekend, Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson, will be allowed to play although he is facing a three-game suspension.  However, when Benson begins his punishment, the Bengals will be free to continue, never being held accountable for the players it employs.   While some may argue players like Chris Henry tip the scale against the Bengals, it was the Bengals who kept bringing him back.  The same team that has had multiple marquee players arrested.  These players include: Corey Dillon (assault); Justin Smith (DUI); Chris Henry (possession of marijuana, possession of a firearm, reckless operation of a car, providing alcohol to minors, driving with a suspended license, assault, disorderly conduct); Frostee Rucker (false imprisonment and vandalism); Eric Steinbach (Boating under the influence); Odell Thurman (DUI); Deltha O’Neal (reckless operation of a vehicle); Jonathan Joseph (possession of marijuana); Leon Hall (DUI); Rey Maualuga (DUI); Cedric Benson (assault on a family member, assault).  These don’t even include all of the charges or all of the players.  Also, other than Corey Dillon (2000) and Justin Smith (October 2004), all of these charges have occurred since December of 2005.  Although the Bengals may have publicly criticized these players for their actions, they have continued to profit from the players by performances on the field.  Rarely are any of these teams held accountable for these players, even when they continue to bring them back after repeated offenses (see Chris Henry).  What does that say about the integrity of the game?

The need for integrity also disappears when it comes to coaching integrity.  In September when Ravens Offensive Line coach Moeller was arrested for a DUI he was given a two game suspension even though this was his third alcohol related arrest in the past four years.  Also, in December 2006 when Roger Goodell decided that Detroit Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen’s actions were “detrimental to the league”, he was suspended for one game.  These detrimental actions by Coach Cullen included a DUI on September 1 of that year and a DUI on August 24 of the same year when the coach was caught driving nude.  Once that one game suspension and a $20,000 fine were paid, the coach was allowed to continue as if nothing had ever happened.  However, when it came time to punish a player like Odell Thurman for his first DUI in September 2006, who admittedly was already serving a four game suspension for not taking a drug test, Oddell was suspended for an entire season.  Coach drives drunk and naked? One game suspension.  Player only drive drunk? Whole season.   So much for integrity and image.

The worst example of the NFL’s double standard on “integrity” would have to be its handling of SpyGate.  While players like Ben Roethlisberger were suspended for four games without being charged with a crime, Coaches like Belichick are allowed to break rules (stealing signals) which challenge the very integrity of the game during the sports most important game.  Not only can the “punishment” barely be described as a slap on the wrist, Coach Belichick was awarded Coach of the Year on the very same year that this scandal was uncovered.  While some may argue that the Patriots and Belichick were fined and the Patriots were forced to give up a first round draft pick (although they still had a top 10 pick that year in Jerod Mayo), no one was ever suspended.  One could only imagine the suspension for a player like James Harrison if he was caught stealing signals.  He would be lucky if he was allowed to sell popcorn at future games.

Equal punishment seems to be the only solution to this double standard.   If the league really wants to uphold the integrity of the game, owners and coaches must not be allowed to have a get-out-of-jail free card because right now there is no incentive to bring in high character players.  While teams like Detroit, St. Louis and Houston are among the lowest in the league in terms of having players arrested since 2000, they have also ranked toward the bottom in terms of success.   Thus until things are changed, coaches and owners will continue to profit from the same players they scold for their indiscretions, even if the coaches are committing the same offenses.