A Shift in the N.F.L. Economy?
The National Football League’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, has just made it a lot more expensive to be a thug. Goodell suspended the Titans’ Pacman Jones without pay for the upcoming season (a loss of $1.29 million in base salary) and the Bengals’ Chris Henry for the first half of the season (surrendering as much as $230,000 in base pay). Jones has been arrested five times since he was drafted two years ago; Henry was arrested four times between Dec. 2005 and June 2006.
Although the N.F.L. is not the only sports league that intensely counsels its incoming players about staying out of trouble, it does seem to be the only one willing to discipline its hardcore troublemakers.
These suspensions are far more damaging to the players than to their teams, who are free to replace the players and don’t have to pay their salaries (and, as a bonus, get rid of a huge distraction). This is the sort of thing that makes some people argue that Gene Upshaw, the head of the players’ union, plays too easily into the league’s hands. (I would argue that this is also the sort of thing that makes the N.F.L. so attractive to sponsors and fans.)
So here is the question: in the upcoming N.F.L. draft, how much has the value of crime-prone players fallen? Individual teams and the league itself put together fat dossiers on every legitimate draft pick, including psychological profiles and criminal tendencies. If the rise of the West Coast offense made blind-side protection much more valuable (as Michael Lewis writes in his excellent book The Blind Side), has Goodell’s new anti-crime stance just made good citizenship more valuable?
It is interesting to note, however, that the Titans, in looking to replace Pacman Jones for the season, have signed the Colts’ Nick Harper — who, you may remember, was stabbed by his wife in the leg just before the A.F.C. Championship game two years ago. Maybe she too will now be suspended.