Something extraordinary happened in the sports world last week. A professional sports league delivered severe penalties to two players and exactly nobody disagreed.
Not the players. Not the players union. Not coaches, owners, media.
Not even Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
After seeing nearly 50 arrests of NFL players last year, ranging from DUIs to drugs to guns and animal abuse, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Titans cornerback Pacman Jones for an entire season and Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry for a half-season for their repeated brushes with the law.
That was extraordinary enough, but the reaction was something else.
Everyone applauded. There wasn't a naysayer out there, unless you count Jones' mother, who called it unfair. She found no sympathy.
Everyone is fed up with millionaire athletes who live extraordinary lives of privilege and behave like outlaws.
There's a new sheriff in town, and he means business. Goodell didn't just talk about the problem (for talk, we have Bud Selig); he acted.
Goodell could have invoked the standard line of reasoning that some sports follow that because the NFL is wildly popular, because TV and attendance numbers are off the charts, nothing needs to be fixed (please see the NBA and MLB).
Goodell could have reasoned that because he instituted a new policy after Jones and Henry broke the laws, they would get a clean slate.
He could have hidden behind another standard response about waiting until the players had their days in court.
But he didn't. He made a statement: Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a constitutional right. Goodell socked Jones and Henry and hit them hard. Jones will lose $1.3 million in salary, Henry $218,000. Nor are they guaranteed a return to the league. They must first meet with Goodell again and convince him they are changed men.
Goodell's punishments probably won't end there. He is likely to turn his attention soon to two other troublemakers Joey Porter, who, according to his victim, ganged up in a cowardly ambush assault of another NFL player at a Las Vegas casino at his mother's 50th birthday party celebration, and the Bears' Tank Johnson, who is serving time in jail at the moment.
(After Goodell's actions against Jones and Henry were announced, Porter, the remarkably childish father of four, quickly decided to turn contrite and announced that he is willing to apologize to his latest victim. It might be too little too late.)
Goodell announced that, under the new conduct policy, suspensions and fines will be tougher. Perhaps most significantly, in the future, the teams themselves will be held responsible for the behavior of their players; the new policy doesn't define the punishment, but it could include loss of draft picks and fines.
Coaches like to say they are not babysitters for their players. True, but they are responsible for the types of players they put on their rosters.
The Bengals drafted Henry despite his college record, which included ejections, benchings and a suspension (his own college coach called him an embarrassment). Henry has been suspended twice by the NFL and was arrested four times in a little more than a year.
The Titans kept Jones on the roster even though he has been involved in 10 incidents involving police and arrested five times in the two years since they drafted him. He is currently being investigated for his role in the shooting of a man in Las Vegas.
Coaches often select bad characters in the mistaken belief that their talent will help them win more games; the irony is that often not only do the players embarrass the team off the field, but the team doesn't perform as well on the field.
Character counts as much as 40-yard dash times. The Patriots, the NFL's model franchise, has been built with high-character players and have flourished on the field. The Bengals, who have nine players arrested in the past year, have one of the most talented teams in the league, but they failed to make the playoffs.Comment on this story
Bravo for the NFL, which, unlike the NBA and Major League Baseball, took quick and decisive action on a problem. Goodell, who, as one of his first acts as commissioner, attended the funeral of murdered player Darrent Williams, made it clear he isn't going to dither while the NFL threatens to become a league of gangsters. Imagine if Selig had acted so decisively several years ago when steroids became a problem in baseball."My dream has been taken away," Jones told reporters. He should have thought of that possibility a long time ago.