NFL discipline was once more lenient, but not anymore
NEW YORK — Before Roger Goodell had to deal with Michael Vick, “Pacman” Jones, Tank Johnson and the like, the NFL was a lot more lenient.
Consider that just seven years ago, Ravens defensive star Ray Lewis wasn’t even suspended after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in a case where the original charge was murder. His penalty from the league: a $250,000 fine. After the plea, Lewis testified against his co-defendants, who were acquitted.
Leonard Little of the Rams pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after he hit and killed a woman while driving drunk in 1998. He spent three months in jail in St. Louis, did 1,000 hours of commu-
By Dave Goldberg The Associated Press
nity service and served an eight-game suspension. He’s still playing, and is one of the league’s better pass rushers.
Goodell took over from Paul Tagliabue a year ago and had his hands full from the start. Nine Cincinnati Bengals were arrested in a nine-month span, and Jones plus two Bengals — Odell Thurman and Chris Henry — were multiple offenders.
The suspensions he handed out — Jones for a year and Henry and Johnson for eight games each — gave Goodell a reputation as a tough disciplinarian who has made player conduct his top priority.
Still, he’s not as hardline as some make him out — he usually provides incentives that shorten suspensions if players behave. And he doesn’t like being known only as a disciplinarian.
“You have to deal with what comes before you,” Goodell said in a recent interview. “It’s not as if I don’t deal with other things. I do that all the time. But disciplinary problems came to a head after I got the job and it’s what the public is most interested in.”
Now he must deal with Vick, who on Monday agreed to plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. Not only is that likely to lead to at least a year in jail, but also what could be an indefinite suspension by the NFL — a year or longer.
In any case, there’s no way Vick can return to the field before 2009 and maybe not before 2010. And what team will take a chance on him with the prospect of dem- onstrations at practices and games?
By any standard, Vick will pay a huge penalty — jail time and perhaps his career.
The only NFL player in memory who paid more was convicted of a far more serious crime. That’s Rae Carruth, the former Carolina receiver. He was convicted in January 2001 of conspiring to murder Cherica Adams, the mother of his baby, and was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years and 11 months in prison.
Vick’s crimes were compounded by allegations that he tortured and killed dogs.
It revolted millions of dog lovers around the country and fueled campaigns by animal-rights groups. The most militant picketed the NFL offices and the Falcons’ head- quarters, and clearly made an impression on both the NFL and law enforcement authorities.
Vick also angered Goodell and Falcons owner Arthur Blank by lying to them when the accusations first surfaced.
Then there are the allegations that thousands of dollars were gambled during dogfights.
Gambling has always been scary to sports commissioners. After disclosure that NBA referee Tim Donaghy was involved with gamblers, Goodell went out of his way to assure fans that NFL officials were under the closest scrutiny.
Three of the heaviest suspensions in the NFL involved gambling.
But a quarter-century ago, things were more casual.