When Roger Goodell initially took office as NFL commissioner, he promised that he'd be tough on crime and restore a sense of law and order to the league. And I thought, "Oh, tremendous. Just like every politician in the history of the world who has ever made similar promises and failed to make a difference."
Oddly enough, though, it is working.
Brent Schrotenboer of the San Diego Union-Tribune looked at the numbers this weekend, and Goodell's war on crime has actually been really effective. In the year before Goodell took office, there were 79 arrests of NFL players. The year after, 65. The year after that, 61. And this year, there have been just 44. That's almost a 45 percent drop in just three years.
My first reaction? Extreme surprise, for a couple of reasons.
First, the "exceedingly harsh penalties as a deterrent" philosophy, historically, has almost never worked. But in this case, it is -- not necessarily on the players, though, but on the people in charge of deciding what players get hired. Schrotenboer explains:
The conduct policy especially has affected how teams make decisions, in part because teams can be fined for having multiple player suspensions in a year. It has led teams to avoid “risky” players. Take the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last April, they had more player arrests (13) than any other team in the first two years since Goodell toughened the policy. Since then, they’ve had no known arrests.
What’s been the difference?
The team overhauled its front office and installed a new general manager, Gene Smith, who said he wanted players that children “can look up to.”
So it's not necessarily that players are thinking, "Roger Goodell's the commissioner now, so I better behave," but it's the organizations that are thinking, "This guy could cost me money and/or make himself unavailable to play, so I better draft guys who will behave."
The other reason I was surprised is that it doesn't really feel like today's NFL'ers are more upstanding citizens than their counterparts from years past. Am I alone in that? I don't look at the NFL today and say, "Wow, these gentlemen are better-behaved than any other group before them." I guess I should, though.
Maybe it's just that when there is crime, we focus on it disproportionately. That could certainly be true, and I'd be partly responsible for that.
I haven't always agreed with how the commissioner handles discipline, and I'm likely to disagree again in the future. I can't argue that his approach isn't effective, though.