On Monday, Judge Sue L. Robinson accused the NFL of overreacting to public opinion in its enforcement of the Personal Conduct Policy. She failed to understand that public opinion drives all politics.
The policy exists as a mechanism for the league to take action against players and others in trouble while away from work. For most employers, behavior outside of work is not the employer’s problem. But the NFL has made such matters a concern because the public expects action to be taken against those who potentially squander the “privilege” of being affiliated with the Shield by getting into trouble when they don’t work under its auspices.
However, the Personal Conduct Policy entails some PR balancing for the league. It is one thing to act when the situation outside the field is widely publicized, discussed and carefully studied, as, for example, Deshawn Watson case. When someone gets into trouble and the media doesn’t see it, the league has to choose between taking action – and therefore turning non-story into history – or letting sleeping dogs lie.
A perfect example of this dynamic is the NFL’s treatment of Cardinals running back coach James Saxon. On Friday, it was first reported that he had been arrested in May on charges of domestic battery. Following the report’s appearance, the Cardinals place Saxon on paid administrative leave on the recommendation of the league.
This timeline led many to conclude that either Saxon did not inform the Cardinals of the situation, or the Cardinals did not inform the league. This is not true; As coach Cliff Kingsbury told reporters on Friday, the team knew about the arrest when it happened, and at the same time reported it to the league.
The league, according to the team, did not recommend an administrative leave until today, after the report emerged.
The meaning is obvious. The League didn’t want to make history because of the arrest of the Saxons when no such history existed. If he had been placed on administrative leave at the time, someone would have asked, “Hey, where’s Coach Saxon?” By deliberate expectation, no one knew. This saved the league from a negative story that the coach was accused of domestic violence.
There is an element of hypocrisy in the league’s decision to take no action until necessary. The NFL will penalize employees and teams that do not report incidents immediately. But the NFL reserves the right to hide such incidents from the public unless they are public knowledge. Then, as soon as someone reports a problem, the league will do what it should already have done, but which it didn’t want to do because it preferred that no one knew about the arrest.