The NFL: Do Suspensions Fit the Crime?

Since the turn of the century, 805 players have been arrested in the National Football League. But in September, for the first time since July of 2009, the NFL went one full month without any players getting arrested. This is not indicative of some upward trend; rather, it is a testament to how poorly informed NFL players are about crime.

A possible explanation for the outrageously high number of arrests is the lenience of both law enforcement and the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell. NFL players often have an undeserving sense of invincibility, due to years of light punishments. The cases of Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy are prime examples of this invincibility.

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon,
Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon,

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns is no model citizen. He was involved in multiple drug-related incidents as a star receiver at Baylor University, and therefore was selected in the NFL Supplemental Draft. Once in the league, he failed a multitude of drug tests for marijuana.

After the first violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Gordon was suspended for two games. He went on to lead the league in receiving, despite only playing in 14 of the 16 games that season. The next year, Gordon again violated the same policy. Originally suspended for the whole 2013-14 season, his suspension was reduced to just 10 games.

Gordon has certainly made poor choices in his career by engaging in risky behaviors that come with drug abuse. But is he deserving of combined suspension equaling 28 games, while Greg Hardy, charged with assault, was given only a four-game suspension?

Hardy, the former Pro Bowl Panther, now a Cowboy, was found guilty in July 2014 of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The 24-year-old cocktail waitress says, “[Hardy] looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me. I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, ‘Do it. Kill me.’”

Hardy is a repugnant human being. He abused his ex-girlfriend and caused her to fear for her life. Under no circumstances is smoking weed three times worse than assault, and the suspensions should reflect that. It is understandable that the NFL deems Gordon to be a harmful representative of its brand, but it is unjustifiable that it considers Hardy worthy of suiting up on Sundays for the foreseeable future.

The NFL must remain consistent. The point of suspensions is not to make the NFL into a law enforcement agency, but to discourage illegal behavior and protect its reputation. Allowing Hardy to continue to play football not only sends the wrong message to players, but also to fans.

The solution to this problem is largely unclear. The NFL has to entirely reevaluate its personal-conduct policy so that it reflects the values it wants to emphasize; it cannot continue as the “bad guy” league. For Josh Gordon to receive a 28-game suspension for failing three drug tests for marijuana while Greg Hardy received only a 20-game suspension for assaulting a woman and endangering her life is ridiculous. There is no excuse. The NFL needs to shape up.