Does personal conduct policy apply to Favre?

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

CHICAGO – The defining policy of Roger Goodell's tenure so far as NFL commissioner could be in serious danger of falling apart as quickly as it takes Brett Favre(notes) to throw another interception.

After spending most of Tuesday at the Palmer House Hilton talking to league owners and executives about the state of labor negotiations with players, Goodell answered a series of nine questions regarding the latest NFL quarterback allegedly gone wild.

At issue is whether Goodell has the ability to suspend the Vikings quarterback, who while with the New York Jets allegedly contacted then-Jets employee Jenn Sterger through MySpace and via cell phone, leaving voice mails and sending inappropriate photos. Specifically, can Goodell leverage NFL's personal conduct policy against Favre if Sterger isn't going to complain about it?

The primary message from Goodell was that the NFL is continuing to investigate the situation from the 2008 season, when Favre was a member of the Jets and reportedly took a liking to Sterger, to put it politely. Beyond that, Goodell wouldn't say how soon the matter would be settled or even if he would ever discuss the situation with Favre.

Much is up in the air, notably the scope of the league's personal conduct policy. The situation, if Goodell ultimately is unable to act on it, threatens to undermine the foundation of the policy he pushed for shortly after he took over as commissioner in 2006

Goodell expressed confidence that the league would be able to apply the policy regardless of the circumstances in this case.

"If you look at the policy, I believe we have been very consistent with the way we have applied it. It makes it clear what is permissible, and what is not permissible. Obviously, you can't identify every specific issue in a policy, but we have worked this out with the players association, and it has worked well with every one," Goodell said.

But is the NFL's current investigation of Favre going beyond the boundaries of what's acceptable if there is no formal complaint?

As one NFL players agent put it: "This is getting into some weird territory. If I'm the NFL Players Association, there's a point where you can't just give the commissioner complete free reign. Where does it stop? Are you investigating every rumor? If you do that, there are a bunch of players – star players – who are going to be in trouble in a hurry."

Certainly, a number of factors make the situation with Favre one that the league is compelled to examine.

Primarily, this is a workplace issue and, if true, could be a case of harassment, even if Sterger never filed or does file a complaint. Anyone who has seen the report on Favre understands just how embarrassing the situation would be not only for Favre and his family, but also for the NFL in general. This follows other embarrassing situations involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and Philadelphia Eagles (then-Atlanta Falcons) quarterback Michael Vick(notes).

The key difference with Roethlisberger and Vick, though, is that their suspensions were precipitated by legal action. Roethlisberger went through two incidents, including a civil lawsuit alleging sexual assault and a police investigation of sexual assault (he was not charged in the latter). Vick was under investigation and later pleaded guilty to multiple charges regarding dog fighting and spent more than a year in federal prison.

Conversely, there have been no formal charges or public complaints lodged against Favre.

Favre repeatedly has declined to discuss the situation publicly. ESPN reported Monday that Minnesota Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell(notes), a close friend of Favre, said Favre apologized to the team for causing a distraction to the team last week.

But in a business that is dependent on image and perception, Favre's alleged actions could have a deeper impact on the league, portraying more of the "Playmakers" image that irked NFL officials when ESPN produced the fictional television series in 2003.

And that speaks to the core purpose of Goodell's policy.

"I'm not concerned at all with what the league is doing in this matter because it's important that our players and everyone in the league get reminded of the obligation we have to the league to conduct ourselves professionally," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "We'll see what happens in this situation, but if what's out there is true, this runs completely contrary to what we're expecting of players, especially high-profile players."

By the same token, Steelers owner Dan Rooney and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay expressed trepidation about where such investigations might go.

"I think we have to be careful about what we're responding to," Rooney said. "I am concerned about this. The conduct policy is very important to our league and it's something we have to take seriously, but where is the stopping point? If there's no complaint from anyone, I think we have to be careful."

Said Irsay: "If this is a workplace issue, yes, that's something we've got to look at. But where is the line? We seem to be inching closer and closer to that point where maybe we're getting too deep into people's private lives."

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