Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity


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Critical Policy Review: NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy

Ever since Roger Goodell became the commissioner of the National Football League (NFL) in 2006, there has been a major emphasis on the behaviour of both players and personnel off the field. In the years leading up to Goodell’s appointment as the commissioner, there had been a growing issue of players, coaches, executives, and others tarnishing the reputation of the league through negligent, dangerous, and potentially illegal off the field incidents. In response to this seemingly negative culture shift developing within the league, a personal conduct policy was introduced in 2007 to ensure that the league was viewed positively in the public eye and seen as a viable source of entertainment for all ages. Negative off the field conduct leads to certain people tuning out and becoming disinterested in the product because it can be difficult to support and cheer for people who do not share the same positive societal values as others. Throughout Goodell’s regime, the policy has been updated and tweaked numerous times to mesh with the changing scope of the league – the most recent iteration was developed in 2016 and this the one in which I will be analyzing.

The policy deals with a plethora of sensitive topics which must be carefully addressed within the guidelines. I have chosen to discuss this policy because I am an avid fan of the NFL and really enjoy following the intricacies of the league. Many stories involving the league throughout each calendar year discuss the policy and its effect on player conduct so it is interesting for me to delve in further, read and analyze the policy, and also see what other influential people think of it. In this paper, I will briefly summarize the NFL’s most recently updated Personal Conduct Policy, analyze varying opinions on the policy and then add my own thoughts and views on the policy.
When looking at the Personal Conduct Policy which was commissioned in 2016, we must first look at what the policy is intending to do and what its main mandate is. It is clearly stated in the first paragraph that “it is a privilege to be in the National Football League (and) everyone who is part of the league must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity and public confidence in” the NFL” (National Football League, 2016). The word “everyone” is bolded and underlined to emphasize who the policy is being addressed to. Consequently, it is extremely important to note which parties in particular he NFL is addressing in the policy as that will help make more sense of the reasoning and tone of the guidelines. The policy states that it “includes owners, coaches, players, other team employees, game officials, and employees of the league office, NFL Films, NFL Network, or any other NFL business” (National Football League, 2016). This is sensible because everyone associated with the league represents the entire entity and poor behaviour from any individuals associated with the league can negatively impact the public image. The NFL is also covering its bases in including all possible parties to ensure that there are no liability issues if someone conducts themselves poorly.
The body of the policy is divided into two major sections: “Expectations and Standards of Conduct” and “What Happens When a Violation of this Policy is Suspected?” (National Football League, 2016). In the Expectations and Standards of Conduct section, it is specified what type of actions lead to discipline from the league. Furthermore, it is stated that “it is not simply enough to avoid being found guilty of a crime (and that) we are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the value of the NFL, and is lawful” (National Football League, 2016). In each area of this document, we are mindful of the fact that the NFL is mostly concerned about their public image so anything that is done to foil that must be subject for discipline. It is an important distinction that players and league personnel do not necessarily have to be convicted of a crime to be subject of discipline from the league – this means that the league is very serious about their efforts to minimize poor behaviour off the field but it also leads to a significant amount of grey area in their disciplinary decisions.

The league provides a list of 14 separate actions that may lead to discipline from the league. The NFL is very thorough and leaves all bases covered in order to discipline anyone associated with the league who they feel is breaching appropriate conduct. They state that “even if the conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, players found to have engaged in any of the following conduct will be subject to discipline” (National Football League, 2016). They also make a point that “prohibited conduct includes but is not limited to” (National Football League, 2016) these 14 actions which suggests that several other actions can be perceived as breaking the code of conduct. Some of the 14 actions are broad in nature and can include a variety of negligent activity such as “assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses, disorderly conduct, conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, etc.” (National Football League, 2016). Since a player does not have to be convicted of a crime to be disciplined, the league has full discretion in initiating discipline towards a player if they feel they have violated the expectations and standards that are laid out for them in the policy.
The What Happens When a Violation of This Policy is Suspected section is extended and covers several areas in reaction to the expectations and standards of conduct that were stated previously. The gist of this section is to outline what occurs to league personnel when league rules are violated. The league mentions various steps that may occur if violations of rules are signalled by the league. Personally, I find this section slightly convoluted and it does not necessarily outline in order what may occur once a violation happens. They just jumble a number of further actions that the league may take to address the situation and some of them are very vague. The subsets in this section include: “Evaluation Counseling, and Services, Investigations, Leave with Pay, Discipline, Reporting, and Conduct Committee” (National Football League, 2016). As evidenced by this title, the league was all over the place and felt the need to mention all areas of discipline following a breach of conduct. In a nutshell, when a player or league personnel member breaches desired conduct, they are subject to many actions that the league can impose on them. By outlining them in their entirety in this section, individuals who are said to have committed a violation have very little wiggle room in their defense. While this section does not deliberately outline the chronological process following a conviction by the league, it covers several areas and ensures that players and league personnel are aware of what may occur if they violate the desired expectations and standards of conduct.
Before delving into my personal analysis, I feel as though it is beneficial to briefly touch on varying opinions towards the policy from the public and within the league itself. On the whole, public opinion on the policy is fairly mixed although you could probably find a slightly larger group that takes issue with it than those who support it wholeheartedly. One of the major points of contention with the policy is that it is somewhat vague in certain areas and that the extrapolation of discipline can be extremely inconsistent as a result. For instance, Mel Robbins is of the opinion that players and others associated with the league do not know what to expect from the league if they violate one of the points laid out by the league. Moreover, Brooks states that the policy “is ambiguous, optional, case-by-case, complicated and at the discretion of the NFL” (Robbins, 2014). A major sentiment is that since a lot of the discipline is at the discretion of the NFL, it can lead to a lot of grey area when it comes to deciding on proper punishment for individuals. Since each potential case can be different, it is difficult to have an overarching set of rules in place to discipline players and this can lead to a lack of consistency when it comes to punishment.

Another criticism towards the policy is the sentiment that the league put together this document mainly to ease the criticism the league was facing in regards to several players acting out and tarnishing the reputation of the entity and that it fails to take steps to find ways to discipline players in a more consistent manner. Before implementation of the newest iteration of the policy, the league had faced heavy criticism for mishandling certain situations involving domestic violence in particular and applying inconsistent discipline towards players. As a result, some people hold the opinion that “pressure led the NFL to hastily implement a player conduct policy specifically aimed at addressing crimes against women (and that) the NFL admittedly used this new policy as a public relations maneuver” (Meyer, 2015, p. 1). Many people think that the league was simply trying to save face after botching the execution of disciplinary measures in previous cases and this new policy was an act in showing the public that they were attempting to make an effort in resolving the increasingly negative situation.
In my view, while I feel as though it is important in theory to have a set of standards for players and league personnel to abide by, the execution is not precise and it leads to a lot of confusion. When reading and analyzing the policy itself, I was impressed with the conciseness of the introduction and the section regarding the expectations and standards of conduct. I felt as though the league did a fine job encapsulating the purpose for the policy and what must occur to violate the rules and expectations that are put in place by the league. However, once the expectations and standards are drawn out, I find that the policy gets messy and ambiguous. It is difficult to interpret the section regarding what happens following a violation of the policy and can lead to a lot of confusion amongst those trying to interpret the document. While it would be slightly more difficult to implement, I think it would be in the league’s favour to have more cut and dry violations with specific disciplinary actions attached to certain violations. This would lead to a more consistent disciplinary process and those associated with the league would be aware of the potential consequences tied to their actions.
Despite my criticism towards the execution of the policy, I do agree that a policy of this nature must be mandated not only in the NFL, but in every league. In an era where everything is highlighted on social media and other sources, players and league personnel must be more careful than ever when it comes to behaviour off the field. The standards are higher in this day and age and leagues must have rules in place for players and personnel that perform actions which can stain the reputation of the league. For me personally, I grew up idolizing athletes and emulating them in everyday life. From my experience, I know how special it is to have a relationship with an athlete and to follow them as you grow up. Athletes need to be cognizant of the fact that they are role models for the youth and a policy such as this can go a long way towards ensuring that players act in a way that is appropriate and cordial. One of the main subjects we touched on in the course was the idea that globalization has been causing the opportunity for teams and leagues to grow their fan bases in ways that they could have never imagined decades ago. Moreover, “at one time sports managers relied almost exclusively on fans in their local market to generate a lifetime commitment in order to earn team revenues (but) with new technologies…it is increasingly feasible to market to fans world-wide” (Foster & Hyatt, 2008, p. 266). This widen scope puts much more pressure on leagues such as the NFL to ensure that their players and personnel are acting accordingly and ensuring that the league is viewed in a positive light. With increasing international exposure, young children all over the world have the opportunity to look up to NFL players which means that these players must be more careful than ever in maintaining a strong reputation. A personal conduct policy can help in this sense but the execution must be crisper so that players can be aware of specific potential discipline.
As an ardent fan of the NFL, I feel as though the ambiguity of the policy takes away from the on-field product in some respect. Due to various off the field incidents occurring and subsequent suspensions being handed out, there is constant discussion regarding how the NFL should handle themselves in response to the incidents that occur away from the game. In my opinion, the lack of clarity in the policy contributes to a lot of wasted discussion on suspensions and discipline rather than focus on the game itself. Since the policy leaves a lot of wiggle room for the league and does not specifically clarify suspension lengths, it makes it difficult for the league to levy appropriate and consistent suspension lengths when players break the regulations set forth. The lack of ambiguity certainly effects the NFL in several ways and leads to negative press and attention. It is important to recognize the fact that professional sports have become a business in a sense and that a large amount of money is in play when it comes to all elements of a league like the NFL. Moreover, professional sports becoming more business-driven in the past few decades are “a matter of recognizing that the distinctive qualities sport and its participants possessed, notably its popular culture appeal and unrivalled aura of authenticity, were of potential value in the increasingly competitive process of capital accumulation in a fully-fledged consumer society” (Smart, 2007, p. 114).

As professional sports have become more consumer driven, sponsors must be cognizant of the negative attention that is brought upon the league when a large majority of the talk is focused on the off-field behaviour of players. It takes away from the heightened sense of authenticity and cultural appeal that the drove a league like the NFL to be consumer driven in the first place. If issues continue to persist through the lack of ambiguity of the policy, league sponsors may become disinterested in the direction the league is heading and choose to decide to spend their money elsewhere.
Overall, I feel as though the policy is a double-edged sword for the NFL. While I think a policy such as the Personal Conduct Policy is absolutely necessary, the execution is subpar and leaves for too much room for interpretation. While players and personnel are aware of the fact that they must compose themselves properly off the field, it would be helpful for them to know what exactly their consequences are based on their actions. I believe that it is in the best interests of the NFL to restructure the policy to make it more comprehensible and explicit. This would lead to a more defined set of rules and less discussion about the length of suspensions and the substantiality of fines levied. If there was a fixed doctrine in place, players and personnel would be punished accordingly and most of the attention could be shifted towards the on-field product. This policy matters because the league must regulate the actions of those associated with the league and ensure that their public image is not tarnished. A policy must be in place to keep individuals in line and give them incentive to behave in a manner that represents the league positively. On the other hand, critical analysis of the policy is important as well because improvements certainly must be made. If people share their concerns about the weaknesses of the policy, changes can be made and the league can be better for it. I hope that the league can continue to tweak the policy and end up with a set of regulations which are clear and lead to fair and non-ambiguous punishment.

References
Foster, W. M., & Hyatt, C. G. (2008). Inventing team tradition: a conceptual model for strategic development of fan nations. European Sport Management Quarterly, 8(3), 265-287.
Meyer, J. (2015). Unnecessary toughness: Throwing the flag on the NFL’s new personal conduct policy. Illinois Business Law Journal, 1-1.
National Football League: Personal Conduct Policy. (2016). Retrieved from https://nflpaweb.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/PDFs/Active%20Players/PersonalConductPolicyLPP.pdf
Robbins, M. (2014, December 13). NFL’s personal conduct policy fail. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/11/opinion/robbins-nfl-domestic-violence-rules/index.html
Smart, B. (2007). Not playing around: global capitalism, modern sport and consumer culture. Global Networks, 7(2), 113-134.


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Concussed: Is it Ethical to Continue to allow our Youth to Play Football?

Concussion, the recently released movie starring Will Smith, was a hit in theatres, however it also served to bring light to the NFL’s “dirty little secret”. Increasingly overwhelming evidence  shows that if you play the game of football long enough, you are increasingly likely to suffer from long-term brain injuries. Recently, disturbing evidence came to light:

“A study that will be presented at next week’s American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meeting offers one of the most conclusive pieces of evidence yet of a definitive link between brain injury and playing football.

It shows that “more than 40 percent of retired National Football League players … had signs of traumatic brain injury based on sensitive MRI scans called diffusion tensor imaging,” according to a press release from the AAN.” (Washington Post 2016)

Junior Seau, Adrian Robinson and Dave Duerson ended their own lives. Javon Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself. Jim McMahon sometimes forgets his name. All showed signs of CTE (a form of brain damage). These are only a few of the known sufferers in a long line of former NFL players suffering from head trauma, and there is likely unfortunately many more who will come to light. Some, unfortunately, will likely be in the form of tragedy.imrs

These sobering cases raise ethical and moral questions regarding the sport of football. We in North America are obsessed with football: whether it be watching the NFL, playing fantasy football,  or playing/watching high school or college football. It is a point of local pride to play high school football and the dream of many young football players to play at the college level. This dream becomes the obsession of many in the pursuit of playing professionally. However we need to question the morality of encouraging our youth to partake in a sport where there is almost guaranteed chance of injury and significant change of long-term brain damage.

Speaking from playing high school and CIS football, there is nothing quite like it. I’ve played baseball and hockey at fairly high levels and had the opportunity to play in front of large crowds and in some incredible venues and locations (The MetroDome in Minnesota, The stadium used in “A League of their Own” in Indiana, The Rogers Centre in Toronto, played one game for the Canadian Junior National Baseball Team in front of 1000 people in my hometown). However, there just isn’t anything quite like running out under the lights on a Friday night and playing football in front of hundreds or thousands of people. The adrenaline rush is unparralelled. So i can understand why parents and coaches want youth to experience the game of football, it has taught me some incredible life lessons and provided me with countless memories.

However, I also know that i’ve been concussed at least 3 times from helmet to helmet contact playing football, probably more. I’ve separated my shoulder three times, dislocated it twice and  had surgery to repair a torn labrum and it still aches every day. I tore every ligament and the cartilage in my ankle which required major surgery and now clicks when i walk. Some of my fingers are crooked and i have countless scars. I’ve watched my brother, a gifted linebacker who was being heavily recruited to play university football, tear the same ACL and MCL twice in his right knee. I’m not sure of the long-term effects that these injuries will have on me as time progresses, but I view the injuries as a blessing in disguise, forcing me out of the sport before more serious damage was done. Yes football is an incredible sport that can serve to provide structure and an outlet for youth, but at what cost? When do we draw the line as more and more research showing the negative effects of the sport come to light?

I truly believe we need to question whether, given its current state, it is ethical to encourage youth to play football and provide it in our schools. However, as long as the NFL and NCAA football exists and continues to thrive, market forces will continue to push children into playing football. So perhaps the real issue is the commercialization of sport, which provides ever increasing monetary incentives for youth to “chase the carrot” so to speak. Perhaps the issue is more socio-economic, maybe bridging the ever increasing gaps in social classes would reduce the need of impoverished young athletes to relentlessly chase the dream of playing professionally.Maybe we need to consider how we play football, the increasing size and speed of the athletes is making it harder and harder to avoid devastating collisions. Medical research, according to the Washington Post (2016), suggests that the repeated collisions involved in football drastically increase the probability of long-term brain damage. Yet local communities glorify their high school football players and college and professional players are idolized.

None of these solutions are clear cut, nor are they intended to be. This blog is to serve to start the discussion on whether or not allowing our youth to play football is morally right. The recent, very public issue of CTE and its relation to the NFL is an encouraging start, as the beginning of any effective change almost always starts with dialogue, which this has facilitated. This has resulted in an increased focus on player safety, which is encouraging. But until the game itself changes, it doesn’t seem likely that these issues will cease, and as more data becomes available, the severity of these issues will only increase.

References

Andrews, T. (2016, April 12). 40 Percent of NFL Players suffer from Brain Injuries, New Study Shows. Washington Post. Retrieved November 1, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/04/12/40-percent-of-former-nfl-players-suffer-from-brain-damage-new-study-shows/


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Case Study: How The NFL Fleeces Tax-Payers

lead_largeEasterbrook exemplifies the level of gauging that the NFL and its owners get away with by explaining that since the NFL has obtained a not for profit status and receives tax exemptions from the government, the public is stuck with the burden of paying off the tremendous debts associated with the construction of coliseum like marvels. Easterbrook then provides the reader with an argument for a solution to the end of taxpayer fleecing by the NFL.

Premise

The NFL has government Backing and Non Profit Status. This came effect with Public Law 89-800. The 1966 law was effectively a license for NFL owners to print money. This sweetheart deal [for Non-profit status] was offered to the NFL in exchange only for its promise not to schedule games on Friday nights or Saturdays in autumn, when many high schools and colleges play football.

The non-profit status applies to the NFL’s headquarters, which administers the league and its all-important television contracts. Individual teams are for-profit and presumably pay income taxes—though because all except the Green Bay Packers are privately held and do not disclose their finances, it’s impossible to be sure. 

The NFL burdens the tax payers with the cost of the stadiums while keeping profits to themselves.In a typical arrangement, taxpayers provide most or all of the funds to build an NFL stadium. The team pays the local stadium authority a modest rent, retaining the exclusive right to license images on game days. The team then sells the right to air the games. Finally, the NFL asserts a copyright over what is broadcast. No federal or state law prevents images generated in facilities built at public expense from being privatized in this manner.

Politicians seem more interested in receiving campaign donations and invitations to luxury boxes than in taking on the football powers that be to bargain for a fair deal for ordinary people that use of the game’s images “without the NFL’s consent” is prohibited. Under copyright law, entertainment created in publicly funded stadiums is private property. Public officials who back football-stadium spending, meanwhile, can make lavish promises of jobs and tourism, knowing the invoices won’t come due until after they have left office. Pro-football coaches talk about accountability and self-reliance, yet pro-football owners routinely binge on giveaways and handouts.

Argument

NFL’s non-profit status should be revoked and congress should require that television images created in publicly funded sports facilities cannot be privatized. The result would be that the related costs incurred to the public are minimized and the league owner’s would become accountable to cover the funds the public previously funded (given the tremendous revenue generated by the NFL, Easterbrook does not see that as an issue).

Conclusion

If football images created in places funded by taxpayers became public domain, the league would respond by paying the true cost of future stadiums—while negotiating to repay construction subsidies already received. To do otherwise would mean the loss of billions in television-rights fees. Pro football would remain just as exciting and popular, but would no longer take advantage of average people.

Until public attitudes change, those at the top of the pro-football pyramid will keep getting away with whatever they can. This is troubling not just because ordinary people are taxed so a small number of NFL owners and officers can live as modern feudal lords and ladies. It is troubling because athletics are supposed to set an example—and the example being set by the NFL is one of selfishness.

Roger Goodell and the free market “so-called” defense

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Who’s Watching Sport? A Look into the Viewing Demographic of Sport in North America

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As a graduating undergraduate in RSS, an article I would recommend reading is:

Thompson, D. (2014, February 10). Which Sports Have the Whitest/Richest/Oldest Fans? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/which-sports-have-the-whitest-richest-oldest-fans/283626/

This article looks at the demographic breakdown of who is viewing sport in North America. From gender, to age, ethnicity, and income, Thompson breaks down each of the professional sporting organizations in North America and who’s is watching their product. The demand for sport in North America is at an all time high. Thirty-four of the thirty-five most watched TV shows from last fall in the United States were NFL games (Thompson, 2014).

Besides the games being played, there are several aspects of a sports broadcast that appeal to fans. The increased inclusion of modern day technology has made watching sports live an experience like no other. We are getting closer to the feeling of being on the field witnessing the game.  The National Association of Broadcaster’s trade show, held annually,  unveils new technologies in the world of broadcasting. Here’s what’s in store for the future broadcasting of sport.

Sport is becoming more popular in North America and is the focal point of live cable television. But which sports attract which types of demographics? And which sports will become more popular in the future.

If you would like to read this article you can find it here: Which Sports Have the Whitest/Richest/Oldest Fans?