Al Messerschmidt

Off-field convictions pile yet more pressure on the NFL

It’s been a tough week for the NFL. Off the field events have dominated the headlines over the past seven days, and it has in the process heaped considerable pressure on commissioner Roger Goodell.

Normally at this time of the year, all the talk would be about the excitement surrounding a new season, but this has been without question overshadowed by disturbing stories of domestic violence and possible child abuse.

The Ray Rice story sent shockwaves through the League and led questions to be asked about player conduct, yet fingers were also pointed at Goodell who many felt failed to act swiftly and strongly enough.

Initially handed just a two game ban, the Baltimore Ravens running back was then released and banned indefinitely by the League upon the emergence of additional video footage which showed him knocking his then-fiancé unconscious in a lift.

In the last few days the NFL have made their intentions very clear by appointing three domestic violence experts to advise the League on such matters, but some may still point to what might be a systematic and deep-rooted problem, particularly with what followed a couple of days after Rice was given a lifetime ban.

Star Minnesota Vikings running back, and former NFL MVP, Adrian Peterson was arrested on suspicion of child abuse relating to him disciplining his child with a tree branch, although the 29-year-old has repeatedly denied intentionally hurting his son.

Peterson missed the 30-7 defeat to the New England Patriots in Week 2, and despite still being questioned relating to the offence, the Vikings stated he would be available to play while the legal matters take their course, but they have since retracted that statement, confirming he will be exempt from football activities for the foreseeable future.

Not only does it raise more questions about the actions of players off the field, particularly as many people view them as role models to the younger generation, it also seems to make light of the seriousness of the allegations.

Had Peterson played some part, or even replaced Matt Asiata as the starter in Week 3, it would have undermined and perhaps even trivialised the process, even in the event the charges were dropped against the player.

This situation of giving permission for a player to dress for a game is not a new occurrence. In fact, the Carolina Panthers allowed defensive end Greg Hardy to play in Week 1 despite having been charged with domestic violence against his former girlfriend by a judge back in May.

Hardy is a key piece of Ron Rivera’s side and is pivotal to defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s scheme, which cannot be disputed, although many would feel the best situation would be for the team to make the player sit out of team activities until the re-trial.

Now Hardy’s decision to appeal the conviction means that he technically faces no punishment from the Panthers, or the league as a whole and is therefore free to play, all the while collecting every bit of his $13million salary – albeit the Panthers have since confirmed he will be placed on the exempt/non-football illness list.

It is easy for us to expect a team to relieve one of their best players from the starting line-up, as in many respects an NFL side will always put their own interests first – particularly as players like Hardy and Peterson are among the best out there at their respective positions and are potential game changers on a weekly basis.

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald became the latest indicted on a domestic violence charge, and these mounting cases have simply brought attention to the league for all the wrong reasons.

You only have to watch an NFL game to be in awe at the incredible athleticism and agility that the players possess. In fact, it would be difficult to go from week to week without being impressed at the action unfolding before us.

Yet it is a different kind of action that is causing concern and raising eyebrows as to the league policy on such matters.

Rice is currently weighing up an appeal against his indefinite ban, while Goodell is forced to continue to condemn the stories that have completely overshadowed the beginning of the 2014 NFL season.

One must hope that the action on the field is what creates the headlines over the coming weeks, and while this is likely, the ramifications of the damage caused to the league’s reputation over the last fortnight might just linger a little while longer.

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