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On April 10, 2007, the National Football League introduced a new conduct policy to help control off-field behavior by its players and preserve the league's public image. The policy, introduced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, implements a tougher, new personal-conduct policy, and under conditions of the previous policy handed down two of the harshest suspensions in NFL history for off-field misdeeds. Each player that has been suspended must reapply for reinstatement. The policy only applies to the player's personal lives and image in the public spotlight. The NFL conducts separate investigations for drug and alcohol abuse and performance enhancement.
As of December 2011, seven players have been suspended for an extended period by the NFL due to conduct off the field.
|"It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff. We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League. We have long had policies and programs designed to encourage responsible behavior, and this policy is a further step in ensuring that everyone who is part of the NFL meets that standard. We will continue to review the policy and modify it as warranted."|
|~Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League|
On September 1, 2006, just days prior to the start of the 2006 NFL season, Roger Goodell assumed the office of Commissioner of the National Football League. Goodell was met with expectations of enforcing the National Football League's image to the media. In the months leading up to Goodell's ascension, nine players from the Cincinnati Bengals had been arrested. Goodell and the National Football League Players Association decided that teams will be responsible for the conduct of their employees, and will be subject to discipline for any transgressions.
The first (players) to feel the teeth of the new policy were Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry, college teammates at West Virginia whose first two years in the NFL were marred by arrests. The third player suspended was Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson. On August 24, 2007, Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback Michael Vick filed a plea agreement and pleaded guilty in his involvement in illegal dog fighting and euthanization, and was suspended indefinitely without pay; his reinstatement occurred in time for him to play in the 2009-2010 season.
|Date(s) suspended||Reason / Suspension length||Name||Position||Team at the time of suspension|
|April 10, 2007||Battery, uttering death threat, felony coercion. Entire 2007 season.||Adam "Pacman" Jones||Cornerback||Tennessee Titans|
|Aggravated assault with a firearm, allowing female minors alcohol, driving while drunk, assault, etc. First 8 games of 2007 season. Later died in a motor vehicle accident.||Chris Henry||Wide receiver||Cincinnati Bengals|
|June 4, 2007||Possession of concealed weapon, possession of unlawful assault rifles and other, some loaded, firearms in his home with children present. First 8 games of 2007 season.||Terry "Tank" Johnson||Defensive tackle||Chicago Bears|
|August 24, 2007 – July 27, 2009||Promoting, funding, and facilitating a dog fighting ring on his property, hanging and drowning dogs who did not perform well, failure to cooperate fully with police, etc. First two regular season games in the 2009 season. Could play by week three of the season and could play the final two pre-season games.||Michael Vick||Quarterback||Atlanta Falcons|
|October 14, 2008||Fighting with his bodyguard. Indefinite suspension - ultimately was the minimum of four games.||Adam "Pacman" Jones||Cornerback||Dallas Cowboys|
|August 13, 2009||Entire 2009 Season||Donte Stallworth||Wide Receiver||Cleveland Browns|
|April 21, 2010||First 6 games of 2010 season (later changed to 4 games due to continuous following of the NFL personal conduct guidelines)||Ben Roethlisberger||Quarterback||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|November 29 – December 11, 2011||Weeks 13 and 14 of 2011 season||Ndamukong Suh||Defensive tackle||Detroit Lions|
Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, facing felony charges in two states, was suspended for the entire 2007 season and given specific conditions to meet before he is reinstated, and he can be reinstated after the Titans' eleventh game. There were 10 occasions in which Jones was interviewed by police, the most recent during the NBA All-Star weekend in Las Vegas. Police there recommended felony and misdemeanor charges against Jones after a fight and shooting at, what Jones refers to as a "strip club", left one man paralyzed. Jones later appealed his suspension, saying he was "just being rebellious", but withdrew the request just weeks later. On June 20, 2007, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Clark County District Attorney's office announced that Jones will face two felony charges stemming from the strip club melee that occurred on February 19, 2007. While the charges have since been dropped, Jones still faces civil actions, and his reinstatement was not to be considered until after the 2008 Pro Bowl. On June 2, 2008, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cleared Jones to participate in preseason workouts for the Dallas Cowboys, who had traded for him during his suspension, and also said that a decision on Jones' reinstatement for the regular season would be made by September 1, six days before the Cowboys' first 2008 regular-season game. The league announced at that time that Jones' full reinstatement would depend on "demonstrating that he can conduct himself in a lawful and reliable manner." On August 26 Jones found himself fully reinstated, only to be suspended indefinitely on October 14 after an altercation with his bodyguard in a Dallas hotel.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry, arrested five times in three states between December 2005 and April 2008, was suspended for the first eight games of the 2007 season. He also had to comply with several conditions before returning. Henry was arrested four times in a 14-month span, and received a two-game league suspension last year. He was one of nine Bengals arrested in nine months. Henry was required to not get into further trouble with the law and had to cooperate fully with required counseling, education and treatment assigned to him under league programs.
Henry returned for the second half of the 2007 season but played a minor role on an 8–8 Bengals team. In April 2008, the Bengals released Henry after he was charged with misdemeanor and criminal damaging. He was accused of punching an 18-year-old male in the face and breaking a window in the individual's car. A warrant for Henry's arrest was issued and he surrendered the following day, a police spokesman said. In August 2008, the Bengals re-signed Henry. On December 17, 2009, Henry died from injuries sustained from an accident stemming from a domestic dispute between him and his fiancee.
On April 30, Terry "Tank" Johnson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge as part of an arrangement with prosecutors that will keep him from serving additional jail time. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which was served concurrently with a four-month sentence he was already serving in the Cook County Jail for violating his probation; to donate $2,500 to the Gurnee, Illinois Police Department and $2,500 to the Gurnee Exchange Club's child abuse prevention program.
Johnson's release from jail on May 13 ended his legal problems from the December 2006 weapons incident. The league ultimately suspended Johnson for half of the regular season on June 4. However, he will have the opportunity to reduce the sentence to six games if he complies with Commissioner Goodell's guidelines of behavior, which include going to counseling.
On June 22, Johnson was pulled over speeding in Arizona. According to the police, he was stopped by the police after traveling at forty miles per hour in a twenty-five-mile per hour zone. He was later suspected of drinking, but was released without being booked or charged.
On June 25, 2007, Johnson was released from his contract by the Chicago Bears as a result of the June 22 incident. Bears General manager Jerry Angelo stated that he had "no room for error left." The results of Johnson's blood tests were still pending when the Bears made their decision. On July 2, it was announced that Johnson was under the legal limit and will not be charged with driving under the influence.
Beginning on April 25, 2007, a large house and surrounding 15-acre (61,000 m2) property Michael Vick owned in rural Surry County, Virginia where his 26-year old cousin Davon T. Boddie had been residing became part of a continuing police investigation for possible operation of an illegal dog fighting ring. The action came after police executed a search warrant following two narcotics arrests of Boddie within a week in the Virginia Peninsula cities of Newport News and Hampton (each about 20 miles (32 km) away from the Surry County property) earlier in April. Boddie had given the address of Vick's property in Surry County as his home address when arrested. Earlier, in February 2007, Boddie was convicted in the City of Norfolk of disorderly conduct. At that time, he was carrying a Georgia driver's license giving his address as a house in Duluth, Georgia which was once owned by Vick.
According to ESPN, during the April 25 narcotics-related search of Vick's home and property at 1915 Moonlight Drive in the southeastern portion of Surry County, police discovered a large number of animals, and evidence which they felt indicated dog fighting. They called animal-control officers, who saw what they said was evidence that dogfights had taken place there. Police obtained another search warrant, and, with the help of animal control officials from several localities, removed 66 dogs, 55 of them pit bulls, and seized equipment and some physical evidence that could be associated with dog fighting. WAVY-TV reported that detectives also seized guns, illegal ammunition magazines, suspected marijuana and paperwork on dog fighting.
Vick, along with three others, was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 17, 2007 for "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in animal fighting venture". The 18-page federal indictment outlines an extensive operation which included not only unlawful fighting, but violence against dogs which did not perform well including executions by electrocution, hanging, and shooting, as well as involving tens of thousands of dollars in gambling activity. The four face $350,000 in fines and six years in prison if convicted of the federal charges. The operation was based at Vick's 15-acre (61,000 m2) property near Smithfield, Virginia, valued at over $700,000, which could conceivably be forfeited to the government, as the indictment also puts them on notice that the government intends to take possession of property used in the illegal operations and any proceeds.
In late April 2007, Vick denied his involvement and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "I'm never at the house...I left the house with my family...They just haven't been doing the right thing... It's unfortunate I have to take the heat behind it. If I'm not there, I don't know what's going on."
Vick appeared in court on July 26, 2007 and pleaded not guilty, the same date that the Atlanta Falcons began training camp. Later, Vick filed a plea agreement, and admitted his guilt. Vick was suspended without pay "indefinitely" by the National Football League on August 24. On August 13, 2009, Vick signed a one year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was placed on the exempt/commissioner's permission list on September 5, 2009. On September 15, 2009, Vick was activated to the 53-man roster.
On July 17, 2009, a civil suit was filed in Washoe County, Nevada District Court accusing Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting Andrea McNulty, 31, in June 2008 in his hotel room while he was in Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament. No charges were filed in the case.
On March 5, 2010, it was revealed that a woman from Milledgeville, Georgia had accused Roethlisberger of sexual assault. While Roethlisberger was once again not charged with a crime following the events at the nightclub, the league still suspended him for six games, which was later reduced to four. This is the only time in league history a player has been suspended under the personal conduct policy without being charged with a crime.
The new policy has been praised by both NFL players and sports columnists as a necessity to help improve the National Football League's image. The new policy—which also applies to coaches and front office personnel and has the support of NFLPA director Gene Upshaw—prompted questions and strong reactions among players. Teammates of Chris Henry, including safety Madieu Williams, approved of the measure.
Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp stated, "I understand what they're doing. Some of these new-jack kids act like they're walking on water. Sometimes, they need to be slapped in the face to wake up."
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said of the policy, "I hope this sends a message to people in our league for how to conduct themselves. We have to be careful. People in America can't relate to overindulged athletes not acting responsibly."
|“||I hope it doesn't backfire. What happens if a coach, GM or owner gets a DUI? Then what? What if an ex-NFL player throws himself through a window in Miami? That still reflects on the NFL's image.|
- Keyshawn Johnson, former NFL wide receiver, and current NFL broadcaster.
Many considered the suspensions on Jones and Henry to be too harsh, especially Jones's, which was enforced despite Jones having not been convicted of any crime.[who?] Criticism was also drawn at the commissioner's ability to punish the rest of the player's team and revoke draft picks. Goodell's actions are also leaving the league vulnerable to legal action from player's lawyers.
When New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff were accused of illegally videotaping the New York Jets' defensive playcalling signals in September 2007, Belichick was not suspended, but instead fined $500,000. The team was penalized a first round draft pick in 2008 as they qualified for the playoffs with a perfect 16–0 record, but would have been penalized with a second and third round pick had they failed to make the playoffs. (The Patriots still ended up with the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick in a trade, selecting Jerod Mayo with the pick.) The move was heavily criticized as being a double standard. Although the videotaping is not considered to violate personal conduct rules, NFL players, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer were critical of Commissioner Goodell's move. When Goodell penalized Belichick, he determined that the use of the camera during the Patriots’ season-opening 38-14 win over the New York Jets had no impact on the game.