Can't the NFL police itself?   

Updated: February 27, 2007, 10:23 PM ET

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After Adam "Pacman" Jones brought shame upon the NFL in Vegas a couple of weekends ago, the league and its players may borrow from baseball to handle future off-the-field misconduct. Three strikes and you're out.

NFL Players Association honcho Gene Upshaw said on ESPN Radio that he and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell considered the policy and wanted player input. Now that a group of 10 players has endorsed the idea, the league plans to look into it more deeply.

Tank Johnson

AP Photo/Brian Kersey

Maybe NFL teams will think twice about drafting a player like Tank Johnson in the future.

Such a policy would be cute and catchy. So catchy, in fact, that support for the policy has built even though a "strike" hasn't been defined (we'll assume, for the sake of argument, that an arrest is a strike). But this would be little more than a disingenuous, poorly conceived spin job.

Let's not pretend the NFL doesn't know a bad idea in cleats when it sees one. The league performs thorough background checks on each and every player who enters the league -- definitely more in-depth than the background check The Gap runs on its employees -- and it knows who could potentially be a problem. It knows which guys couldn't stay out of bad situations before they got into the league.

The real problem seems to be that the league doesn't pay attention to these things unless the world sees its dirty laundry.

Does the NFL really need three arrests to determine that a player might not be able to handle the responsibility of the spotlight? This seems more like the NFL seeking protection from itself than anything else.

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Chat with Gene Upshaw, Fri. at 1 ET
Jones: Can't the NFL police itself?

Consider the league's three most notorious problem children from the past few months -- Chris Henry, Tank Johnson and Jones.

Henry didn't run afoul of the law in college, but these were the first words under the "negatives" heading of his draft profile on NFL.com: "His maturity level is sorely lacking … has had problems with the coaching staff ever since he arrived at [West Virginia], struggles with his academics and has had more than a fair share of on-field antics … ." Johnson, the product of an unstable upbringing, has long battled questions about his character and judgment. And Jones received a one-year suspended sentence in 2003 for his role in a bar fight in Morgantown while he attended West Virginia.

Even though the Bengals, Bears and Titans have been disappointed by their players' transgressions, they can't say they're terribly surprised. Perhaps each team tried to convince itself that the guy it was getting wasn't as bad as he seemed, that he was a good guy deep down who needed the right environment to overcome what was in his past. Either way, the teams knew they were getting seriously flawed men with suspect judgment. But each team made the decision that the player's prodigious talents -- and each of these three has the potential to be a truly special player -- made him worth a roll of the dice.

And sometimes the dice come up snake eyes. Those are the breaks.

But instead of policing itself, the NFL and its personnel men are asking law enforcement to tell them when they've had enough of malcontented players.

That seems like a good idea to those who trust the police. For those who shake their heads when players are taken in for resisting arrest and nothing else -- raising serious questions about why they were detained in the first place -- and see the potential for disaster in a famous man's walking the streets with two strikes (giving every power-hungry officer license to toy with his livelihood), it's easy to see the inherent flaws in using a sweeping, standardized system to determine when enough is enough.

Especially when arrests count for so little. Is a DUI supposed to count as much as the resisting arrest charge caught by the Texans' Fred Weary, who says he was Tasered for no reason and charged with resisting arrest -- a charge that was subsequently dropped? (Weary is now threatening to sue the city.) Can the league afford to treat foul balls and whiffs the same way?

If the league really wants to regulate player behavior, it should look at what the St. Louis Rams did after drafting Lawrence Phillips. Because the Rams knew Phillips had serious problems -- to put it mildly -- they protected themselves when they negotiated his contract. Instead of putting a fat check in the hands of a problem child before he took the field, the Rams did not give Phillips a signing bonus. Had he received millions up front, the Rams would have been stuck in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation -- keep a malcontent who embarrasses your franchise, or cut him and take a huge salary cap hit.

Without his prorated signing bonus on the salary cap, would the Titans even consider keeping Pacman around? Doubt it.

The NFL doesn't need the law to regulate its players. The league can show it's serious about player misconduct by addressing these issues before trouble gets to the league. It knows trouble when it sees it.

Even when it doesn't want to look.

Bomani Jones is a columnist for Page 2. Tell him how you feel at readers@bomanijones.com.


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