NFL dis­ci­pline was once more le­nient, but not any­more

The Covington News - - SPORTS -

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.

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