Originally published in The Fordham Ram on October 6, 2015.
This season, the NFL is celebrating the 50th iteration of the Super Bowl. But hidden in this milestone year is a milestone month, one that is every bit as impressive as a 50th Super Bowl. On Aug. 26, San Francisco 49er Ahmad Brooks was arrested and indicted on a charge of sexual battery. That’s the most recent case of an NFL player being slapped with handcuffs. For the first time since July of 2009, the NFL went an entire month without a player getting arrested. Now that is a milestone.
On one hand, the NFL can now say, “Hey guys, we’re doing better now!” But on the other hand, it has to qualify it by saying, “For the last 72 months, at least one player in our league has gotten arrested.” Seventy-two months is a really long time!
To remind you of how long ago that is, July of 2009 was the middle of “The Summer of Brett Favre Part II.” On July 28, he announced that he was rebuking the Minnesota Vikings’ offer to sign him out of retirement, which the New York Jets had done just a year before. However, by Aug. 18 (a month in which six NFL players were arrested), the Vikings convinced him out of retirement, and he led them to the playoffs.
Or an even more ironic throwback: on July 27, the day before Favre announced he would stay retired, Roger Goodell announced that he would conditionally reinstate future-Eagle Michael Vick, who had just been released from jail following his dog fighting charges.
The point I’m trying to make is that the landscape of the NFL has changed as much as it hasn’t in the past six years. The only other months that this has happened in the NFL since 2000 (when USA Today started keeping track of NFL player arrests) were August of 2004 (a five-year gap between then and July of 2009), April of 2002 and December of 2000. In other words, of the 176 months since January of 2000, only four of them haven’t featured an NFL arrest.
Sure, Roger Goodell came in 2006 and started laying down the hammer on law-breaking players in an effort to “protect the shield,” and he was lauded as the savior of the NFL. Well, how quickly the tables have turned. Now he’s almost universally despised, in part due to his poor handling of NFL player transgressions and his taking upon himself to punish players for their off-the-field crimes, oftentimes before things are settled in a court of law. These practices are supposedly a deterrent, but why do NFL players need a stronger deterrent than the full power of the law?
For all the NFL has done to change by being harsher on law-breaking players, it is still at its core a violent sport that tends to attract violent people. That much will remain the same ad infinitum, at least until the NFL decides to transition to two-hand touch. And really, what is the NFL to do? Clearly, its harsher punishments have done nothing to change anything except for the public’s perception of the commissioner. However, that doesn’t mean we should just accept this as fact.
Every month, thousands of Americans are arrested. Almost always, a few are NFL players. That is a denominator of statistical significance, and shows that no matter how much they smack the wrist, the hand punches someone else.