NFL Policy: Too Much Or Not Enough?

Flashback to the year 2011: Aaron Hernandez finishes the NFL season with 79 receptions for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns. 

Skip forward to the year 2012: Adrian Peterson carries the ball 248 times for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, threatening to shatter Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record. 

Now on to the year 2013: Josh Gordon ignites the NFL with 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Alright, let's bring it back to 2015. Hernandez and Gordon - would-be superstars - are no longer in the NFL, for different reasons. Adrian Peterson has only recently been reinstated. 

  • On August 22, 2013, Aaron Hernandez was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Odin Lloyd. On May 15, 2014, he was indicted for the double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. On April 15, 2015, Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder in the Odin Lloyd case. Hernandez now faces a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. 

  • On September 12, 2014, Adrian Peterson was indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of negligent injury to a child, leading to a one-game "deactivation" by the Minnesota Vikings. TMZ revealed pictures of Peterson's 4-year-old son's leg with whip-like wounds. On November 4, 2014, Peterson pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and avoided a jail sentence with agreeing to a plea deal. He only recently was reinstated into the NFL. 

  • On June 7, 2013, the NFL announced that Josh Gordon would miss the first two games of the season. On august 27, 2014, Gordon revealed that the NFL suspended him for 1 year for violating the policy once again. This was reduced to a 10 game suspension. Gordon now faces another year-long suspension due to testing positive for alcohol use. 

If we took a group vote about which of these players committed the worst offense, 100% of the group would vote for Hernandez. Committing a murder with no remorse goes beyond just NFL rules. Hernandez will never see the football field again, nonetheless anything outside of prison bars. But what about the other two? If we took a group vote about either Adrian Peterson or Josh Gordon, the split would probably be close to 50/50. Why is this? Murder isn't really subjective, but child discipline and drugs and alcohol are. 

Josh Gordon's issues stemmed from his marijuana use and his alcohol consumption. Both of these drugs are highly controversial, especially among the younger viewers of the NFL. Josh Gordon admittedly made mistakes, but is his suspension on par with what Adrian Peterson's was? Or Ray Rice? Greg Hardy? Is the substance abuse policy too strict, just right, or not strict enough? How about the violence policy? 

These issues cannot be evaluated without some sort of bias. All of these issues will carry a multitude of opinions. So let's take a look at the player conduct policy first. In April of 2007, the NFL introduced a new conduct policy to monitor off-field issues. Any player that is suspended must apply for reinstatement. This policy follows players personal lives, something that is often debated. Let's take a look at Adrian Peterson's case first. 

Adrian Peterson did what many would call disciplining his child. Many would also say that it is his business to decide how to raise his child. Others would argue that athletes are held on a pedestal and that AP was setting a bad example. You can be on either side of the argument, and there is no right or wrong side to support. Peterson's excuse for hitting his son with a switch was that, essentially, it's how his father raised him. Peterson missed an entire season in his prime due to a controversial suspension.

Josh Gordon did what many would call "being young." Many would also say that if he smoked and drank, and was still an outstanding football player, who cares what he does on his own time? Others would say that he is sending out the wrong message to viewers. Let's look at the substance abuse policy as reviewed by SB nation.

  • HGH testing was initiated. 

  • DUI discipline now includes a two game ban for the first violation, and second time offenders face eight game suspensions. 

  • PED discipline was increased. First time offenders can be suspended for four games, and any offender attempting to cover up their use during a drug test can face a 6 game ban. 

  • A positive Marijuana threshold is a positive test of 35 ng/ml. A first time offense puts the player in a substance abuse program without suspension. A second offender faces a two game fine. Jeff Gray of SB Nation writes that "Each additional violation receives the following progressive discipline: four-game fine, four-game suspension, 10-game suspension. A player can therefore test positive for marijuana three times without getting suspended."

For Josh Gordon, his violation happened before this change of rules. His pending season-long suspension is thanks to an alcoholic beverage on a plane ride home. As part of Gordon's NFL "probation," he was not allowed to drink for a year. When he did, and it showed up in his drug test, he was suspended for a year. 

So what do I think? (Disclaimer: All of the following statements are opinionated). 

Aaron Hernandez: Obviously an unarguable decision. There is sufficient evidence to allow this decision to hold. He will be in prison for the rest of his life, and I have no issues with that.

Adrian Peterson: AP is one of the greatest running backs of all time, but his public relations took a hit after his suspension. I think Peterson's suspension was sufficient. I think that he might learn from this, which can benefit both his son and himself for the future. I think that more of a suspension would be too much, and I think overall the case was handled okay. The NFLPA did a fine job guiding Peterson through the appeals and the reinstatement process. 

Josh Gordon: This kid has been through a lot. Do I empathize with him? Just a little bit. Gordon was 21 years old when he got his first suspension, doing what most other 20-something-year-olds-do. Sure, he's a professional athlete and he might be held to a higher standard, but he is still growing. In terms of his most recent suspension, I don't agree with it at all. The fact that Gordon decided to have a drink, as in one drink, and it ended up costing him a season is ridiculous. Sure, he should know better. But really, it is not a big deal. Gordon still performed well and didn't have many on-field issues. To pick the better of both evils, I'd rather have a football player who has a drink after a game than a player who commits any acts of violence. 

The NFL has had a wild year of controversial issues. Domestic violence and substance abuse have been prevalent all year. The strict enforcement of these issues can be debated; is one violation worse than another? Should all substance issues and all player conduct issues hold the same consequences for every player? These issues and their strictness will continue to host new views, and eventually the rules and policies will change. But for now, it seems players need to keep themselves in check to avoid continuing this record year of suspensions. 

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