A Miscarriage of Justice

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I’ll get straight to the point. In the wake of Kenny Britt’s one game suspension at the hands of Roger Goodell and the NFL, the entire discipline procedure for NFL players needs to be re-evaluated. I say this knowing that technically Britt actually received a stiffer punishment than he was supposed to receiver under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Per the agreement, a first-time DUI offense would typically trigger a two-game fine. Yes, that’s right, a fine. Since Britt got a full game, it is safe to say that the league took into account “extenuating circumstances” and bumped the punishment up to a suspension. What circumstances were those? Just the fact that since entering the league in 2009 Britt has had eight separate incidents with the law.

Of course this “rant” of mine isn’t just about Kenny Britt. This is about all the other players who have been arrested for driving under the influence this offseason and before. A two-game fine for a first offense? It’s just another example of priorities being out of line. NFL players are some of the best paid men in the country, with access to safe ride programs, limo services, and just plain old cabs and designated drivers. Yet this year we have seen an abundance of DUI arrests, piling on to the plethora we have also seen in past years. Quite frankly the NFL and NFLPA should be ashamed at the punishments handed out for such infractions.

How can a man put his own life and the lives of others in danger, only to receive a two-game fine for the first offense? Or in Kenny Britt’s case how, after eight instances of run-ins with the law, can a DUI result in just a one-game suspension? Meanwhile players such as Scott Fujita, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, and Jon Vilma have received far harsher punishments for what the NFL is now essentially agreeing was a “pay for performance” scheme that rewarded players for doing what they are already paid by their teams to do.

I’ve said it before, but some punishments simply don’t make sense. I understand that the NFL has to protect the integrity of the game. But would anyone in the league office or NFLPA have the guts to go on national television and tell America they believe someone getting paid extra for hard hits (or injecting steroids, etc) is truly a worse offense than putting the lives of innocent people at risk by driving drunk? If they can, then the NFL and NFLPA truly have no soul. But that may very well be the case, when you consider past precedent.

In 1998 Rams defensive end Leonard Little got behind the wheel of his car with a 0.19 blood alcohol level, eventually crashing into and killing an innocent woman. He was subsequently convicted of manslaugther and suspended by the NFL for just eight games. Just eight games. Again in 2004 Little was arrested for driving intoxicated after failing three field sobriety tests and even admitting to the police that he had been drinking. Despite that he was acquitted of DUI charges and also received no punishment from the NFL.

Even under Roger Goodell’s six year watch, the punishments haven’t matched the crime in my opinion. In March 2009, after killing a man while driving over the legal limit, Donte Stallworth was suspended for one full season by Goodell — the exact same punishment doled out to Jon Vilma for applying hits on the football field.

Now look, I’m not trying to say a “bounty” or “pay for performance” scheme should go unpunished. But I will say it is clear the NFL has its priorities out of whack. When a player receives the same (or greater) suspension than those who have literally driven under the influence of alcohol and killed people, then there’s something wrong. I need to make this clear though, the blame doesn’t fall just on Roger Goodell and the NFL. The NFLPA deserves equal blame. I understand that the union’s job is to protect their members at all costs and to the best of their abilities, but that protection shouldn’t come at the cost of innocent lives.

The NFL and NFLPA should sit down together and agree to a revision of the collective bargaining agreement that increases the punishments for potentially deadly crimes such as driving under the influence. Until both sides show solidarity and recognize that there are some things more important than the game of football, it will be hard to take punishments such as the suspension of Jon Vilma seriously.

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