Column: NFL could get serious on player arrests, but it’s so much easier to just pretend it cares


By Greg Cote - Miami Herald



It’s funny to watch how flustered the NFL continues to be over what to do with players — current or incoming — who have an unfortunate knack of starring in police reports. You’d think there might be a more uniform policy by now, if only because the league has had so much experience dealing with its scofflaws.

I mean, 26 NFL players were arrested in calendar year 2016 and there already have been five so far in ‘17. One was Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd, who got nabbed for DUI. His punishment? He got released by Arizona … and quickly signed by the Super Bowl-champion Patriots.

Bill Belichick: Noble believer in second (or when necessary third) chances when it suits him!

Your trash is somebody else’s treasure. There always will be teams who eagerly shift into lenient mode if the off-field problems happen to belong to a player with enough talent or at a position of enough need.

Now comes the annual NFL Scouting Combine this Thursday through Sunday in Indianapolis, and we see yet more of the sport’s haphazard handling of its problem children.

At least three prominent players who will be in the April draft — Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Baylor receiver Ishmael Zamora — are banned from this week’s Combine under a new NFL policy barring prospects who have had convictions related to domestic or other violence, use of guns or sexual misconduct.

In other words, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is distancing his brand from the likes of Mixon — except he isn’t, really.

Mixon is still pegged a likely third- or fourth-round pick. Were he a first-rounder, Goodell would be shaking his hand, smiling and personally welcoming him to the fraternity on draft night.

The meat-market Combine is essentially a four-day job interview at which scouts from all 32 teams dissect the physical qualifications and shortcomings of players. It also is a hands-on chance for teams to examine a player’s medical condition and probe any psychological issues on the radar.

Mixon might take a lot of probing, in light of that video that showed him punching a female in the face. But his absence at the Combine simply means that interested teams will have to fly to him.

It was just one year earlier when Tyreek Hill arrived at the Combine fresh off pleading guilty to choking and punching his pregnant girlfriend. Some teams shied away. But the Chiefs didn’t! And Hill was a sensational rookie who led the NFL in punt returns.

Barring certain players from the Combine is window dressing that, if anything, only serves the NFL self-interest by eliminating guys whose presence would shade the four-day festival in negative stories about controversy.

That’s especially true now that the league is turning the Combine into a fan event augmented by 34 hours of coverage (!) on the NFL Network. At the new “NFL Combine Experience,” fans into the sound of grunting will be able to personally watch the bench press and listen in to selected media interviews of prospects.

“We have reimagined the event to provide more access for our fans,” NFL senior vice president of events Peter O’Reilly said.

(I say they get even more interactive and start handing fans copies of arrested players’ police reports, but that’s just me.)

The NFL could get more serious with its off-field problems beyond the occasional four-game suspensions if it chose to. So could the NCAA. But it would require a rather radical commitment.

One example: Sure, your university can sign that player who was arrested and convicted of a felony in high school, but he’d have to sit out a season beyond his redshirt year, and your school would have one fewer scholarship.

Another example: Sure, your NFL team can take that player who was arrested and convicted of a felony in college, but he’d arrive facing a four-game suspension, and his drafting team would lose its next scheduled pick and have to pay a fine.

It would be a deterrent to off-field trouble that does not presently exist if high school kids knew they were costing themselves a season of college ball, and if college kids knew there would be immediate NFL consequences.

College and pro football have the ability to crack down for real on the matter of players who get arrested. But it’s so, so much easier — and self-serving — to just go through the motions of pretending you really care.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Greg Cote is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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By Greg Cote

Miami Herald