Goodell’s Gamble and The New “Pacman Rule”

I’m not weighing in on Tuesday’s decision to defend Adam “Pacman” Jones. Let’s just get that out in the open now. There are way too many deserving people in the world for whom my pen would be better put to use if that were my aim.

But I’m not about to attack Jones either.

I’m weighing in because D-Wil asked me to and because once I started thinking about it I discovered a couple of questions I wanted to throw to the wolves— you guys!

Goodell’s Gamble?

Roger Goodell brought the pain to Pacman Jones yesterday and the sentiment around the NFL and the sports world is that he made the right decision. But I don’t see his “swift justice” plan working. Not just for Adam Jones, but for the NFL as a whole. What if player misconduct doesn’t decline? We need only look as far as the White House’s Iraq policy to see that sheer force of will doesn’t always equate to victory? Sometimes there’s a backlash. Others a lag-time. Is Goodell prepared to fight this particular fight over the long haul? Or does he honestly believe this single sledge-hammer is going to solve his problems? For his sake, I hope this opening round knock-down does the truck. But if it doesn’t, will Goodell continue to suspend players for entire seasons? He’ll have to.

Len Pasquarelli had some pretty harsh things to say about ex-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s legalistic approach to dealing with player misconduct in his ESPN column yesterday. According to Pasquarelli, Tagliabue was too busy pussy-footing with ethics to lay down the law like Goodell has. Well, consider this: Once you lay down the law, it’s the law. You can’t deviate from it and maintain its integrity. If you’re creating a zero tolerance league that prosecutes without due process then you’re putting the pieces in place for a disastrous situation down the road. Now, like or not, the NFL has created the “Pacman Rule.” What exactly is the Pacman rule? That’s a damn good question. The laws of the land are in place for a reason. They create standards that are (ideally) enforced across the board. By suspending Jones without due process the NFL is choosing to create a precedent without any guidelines that it must find a way to adhere to; hence, the Pacman Rule.

Let’s play with this for a moment. Imagine two years from now a rookie hot-shot gets into a scuffle at a bar. Even though he might be the victim, he’s arrested. Three months later he gets into an altercation with his girlfriend. She calls the police. He’s arrested. Now, for good measure, let’s fast-forward another six months. This time the guy is a passenger in a car being driven by a buddy who’s had too much to drink. They get – you guessed it – pulled over. Once again, our guy gets arrested. That’s three arrests in one year. Does this rookie get suspended under the Pacman Rule? Or does the league wait for him to rack up four or five more incidents before intervening? But by then the media and blogosphere will be blowing up the Commish’s spot, reminding him of what he did to Adam Jones.

If you don’t believe it would ever come to this because players aren’t that out of control, then there was no point in setting an example in the first place. If Jones isn’t indicative of the average player or even the not so average player, then who, besides Jones, is really being taught a lesson here? And if only Jones is being taught the lesson then why did the league need to intervene? Why didn’t it just pressure the Titans to suspend Jones?

We should look at Adam Jones’ rap sheet for what it is: An aberration. Sure, plenty of other players get into trouble. And plenty will get into trouble in the future. But the amount of disorder that has managed to infiltrate Adam Jones’ life in less than years, isn’t and shouldn’t be considered suggestive of a broader sports epidemic. The epidemic, if there is one, is of a far different sort.

There’s a reason why indeterminate power has to be exerted judiciously and checked by a series of controls and limits: One authoritative action ultimately begets another and another. It’s the ripple effect. All of a sudden the delicate balance is thrown off and all manner of chaos is unleashed. Just ask George Bush if he wishes he could rewind five years. Ask him if he’d like to step into a time-machine and rewind to 2002.

The Integrity of the Game?

Goodell’s protecting the “integrity of the league” line isn’t convincing. Honestly. We can safely say that Jones wasn’t impairing the integrity game on the field. But what of this idea that he was damaging the NFL product? Were fans turning away from the game because of Jones’ actions? Not likely. Were non-fans being given ammunition for their campaign of hate against professional sports? Trust me, they’ve already got a stockpile of ammo, enough to last a dozen suspensions. That leaves young people. Not just budding stars but average, everyday kids who look up to pro athletes. If the league is doing what it’s doing for them, then my hat goes off to the NFL. I only wish I believed the world was that simple.

Hate the Sin Not the Sinner?

The NFL is punishing Jones not what Jones did. This is the second point Pasquarelli misses in his critique of Tagliabue’s wait-and-see style. By allowing the court of law to decide before he decided, Tagliabue at least superficially ensured that the act was being punished. He could then use a court decision to support and protect his own hide from the kind of heat Goodell is setting himself up for in the near future. Goodell’s approach snuffs out any pretense of being about the act and makes it all about personal beef with the player. If the league was sincerely interested in the acts themselves then it would draw closer attention to the fact that on three separate occasions Jones has been accused of either verbally or physically assaulting women.

Can He Play in Canada?

Assuming a team in the CFL would want a one year risk with a high upside, Jones should be allowed to pull a Ricky Williams. If not – meaning the Titans and/or the NFL refuse to allow him to play in Canada – then I have a problem with that. The NFL’s rationale for suspending Jones is that he is ruining the integrity of its league. The CFL is a totally different league. If a guy can’t make a living – and we can’t honestly expect Jones to get a day job, can we? – then the NFL’s message doesn’t stand up under its own weight.

7 Responses to “Goodell’s Gamble and The New “Pacman Rule””

  1. That was my entire problem with the suspension, HNIC — I thought, at least wait until Jones is actually charged — although that would have screwed their teams if he waited until after the draft and everyone was snapped up in free agency.

    Pasquarelli also indulges in one of my least favorite rhetorical tricks — one political writers use all the time — of denigrating Tagliabue’s actions due to his background as a defense lawyer, as if that is a liability, to be able to evaluate the ethics and legal aspects of such rules and laws of a league.

  2. dax – I can’t see that this is going to turn out well for the league in any sense because the cause hasn’t changed, the effect likely will not either. Gene Upshaw has to be playing along with this for Goodell to think he’ll have any ground to stand on and that may be selling out the players he represents.

    This rule could be a big part of the next round of negotiations as I’ve heard for a couple years that an NFL strike could be imminent. Surprising it hasn’t happened in regard to the deals that players get in other leagues through the union.

  3. Evan, I agree that Upshaw had to be at least tacitly in on the deal. At this point, though, the Union has yet to release a statement. Any ideas about what that must mean?

    As for the possible strike: It will certainly be interesting how effective the new rule will be as a bargaining tool.

  4. Dax, I think that the Union’s gambit is that they will be able to wait it out and the blow over will get addressed in meetings between the league/PA. They’re in for some surprise because this won’t blow over as Pacman will continue to get coverage on anything that may happen off field.
    I think that players are going to feel like they’ve been sold out unless this was a big bargaining chip that’s already been negotiated to a mutual (re: financial benefit). The NFL is strongest in terms of overall exposure and the machine behind it, but it is far behind the NBA in their player-management role.

  5. stopmikelupica Says:

    The main problem I have with the new rules is this (and I’m okay with Pac-Man Jones and Chris Henry’s suspensions): You don’t have to be found guilty of anything to be punished. In other words, if Kobe Bryant was in the NFL, he could have been suspended because of the rape accusation.

    I’m not sure if that’s right. It seems completely arbitrary. Goodwill is essentially pulling a George Bush style move; he’s increasing his job’s power by taking advantage of a early crisis in his term. It’s a little alarming because it indicates a certain level of power-hungriness in Goodwill’s moves.

    The thing is I agree with suspending both Pac-Man Jones and Chris Henry (and the lengths are appropriate), but I don’t like the ambiguity of the new “rules”. They’re not even rules – rules are clear; these are far from clear….

  6. stopmikelupica Says:

    I meant “Goodell”, not “Goodwill” – sorry about that.

  7. SML – I’m with you on the Bush comparison and the feeling that we’re seeing a move towards consolidation of power in the front office. A big issue here is perception as the NFL is an institution within the country. Because of that, most fans don’t make the leap in thinking that it is still a private corporation, under the control of a Commissioner and Board of Governors.

    Unless both the league and NFLPA have some kind of back room deal already agreed upon, this could be disastrous in light of how the Maurice Clarett case was decided.

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