CBSSports.com National Columnist

Goodell's conduct policy veering from mostly right to all wrong

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I don't want to live in a world where an accusation is tantamount to a conviction. That's what happened in Salem, Mass., a few centuries ago. People were accused of witchcraft. Proof? There was no proof, just accusations. But accusations were enough. And so innocent people died.

Roger Goodell is going beyond the guidelines of the personal conduct policy he set up. (US Presswire)  
Roger Goodell is going beyond the guidelines of the personal conduct policy he set up. (US Presswire)  
I don't want to live there.

Roger Goodell lives there.

Roger Goodell scares the hell out of me.

And it wasn't always this way. When Goodell as NFL commissioner unveiled his personal conduct policy in 2007, it was new, needed, even noble. The policy read, and I quote, "It will be considered conduct detrimental [for league personnel] to engage in ... violent and/or criminal activity." The policy went on to describe the line in the sand that could not be crossed, and that line was this: an arrest or a legal charge. A player didn't have to be convicted of a crime to be suspended; he had to be "arrested or charged," a phrase that appeared three times in the conduct policy.

And I loved it. The court system can take forever, and legal finagling often reduces charges to unrecognizable, even negligible levels. For example, domestic battery is often reduced to disturbing the peace, and a DUI arrest can be pleaded down to reckless driving. Goodell can't suspend a guy for disturbing the peace or for reckless friggin' driving, so he goes after the original charge. And we should understand. Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones were charged with all sorts of heinous crimes, and Goodell hammered them. Before all the lawyer wrangling, there was plenty of legal smoke, so Goodell brought the fire. Good for him, and good for his cynical but smart line in the sand.

But in recent weeks, Goodell has moved that line. Where did he move it? He moved it toward Salem, Mass. He moved it somewhere scary:

It's no longer necessary that there be enough evidence of "violent and/or criminal activity" for police to make an arrest or file charges. Nope. Now, an accusation is enough.

Goodell's new line in the sand was outlined in a memo leaked last week, a memo that reads, and I quote: "Every investigation, arrest, or other allegation of improper conduct ... threatens the continued success of our brand."

See that? An arrest is no longer needed. Forget about a conviction. Now, an "allegation" will do.

It makes me wonder ...

I live in Cincinnati. I see the occasional Cincinnati Bengal out at a bar. If I accused any of them of punching me in the face, could I get them suspended?

Hey, Commissioner. Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco decked me -- get 'em!

The news peg for my column, obviously, is Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He has been accused of sexual assault by two different women, most recently last month in Georgia. In both instances, police looked into the woman's accusations. In both instances, the district attorney reviewed the evidence and declined to take the case to trial. Roethlisberger wasn't convicted. He wasn't even charged.

But Goodell wants him suspended anyway. In hindsight, it seems obvious to me that Roethlisberger was the reason for that memo last week, and for the new line in the sand. In that memo, Goodell went all revisionist history when he wrote, and I quote, "Unfortunately, in recent weeks there have been several negative incidents ... that we have previously identified as particularly troublesome [such as] allegations of violence against women."

See what Goodell did there? We have previously identified ... allegations of violence against women.

Liar.

"Allegations" were never previously identified. That was never the line in the sand. Arrests and charges were identified. That was the line in sand: Arrests. Charges.

But now, "allegations" are enough. And let's be honest: They are rather horrific allegations. Sexual assault on a woman by anyone, much less by a 240-pound professional football player, is evil if true. Allegations like that must be taken seriously -- deathly seriously. And they were. Cops in Nevada investigated one accusation and found that the alleged victim had told friends she was hoping for "a little Roethlisberger" after the encounter, which sounds nothing like sexual assault to me. Cops in Georgia investigated the other charge, which sounded much more serious. In any event, neither state found enough evidence to go forward.

No matter to Goodell. He has been talking with the Steelers about how to deal with Roethlisberger, with Steelers president Art Rooney II saying it's a matter of time before Roethlisberger is disciplined. Said Rooney on Thursday: "When we get to the point where we have agreed with the commissioner on what that action will be, that's when it will be imposed."

In other words, this won't be an NFL suspension -- yet it'll be a Roger Goodell production anyway. If the Steelers, on their own, want to suspend Roethlisberger for a pattern of immaturity that makes the team look bad, that would be their right. He's their employee. If the Steelers want to suspend Roethlisberger, do it.

But Goodell is involved, redrawing his line in the sand to a location that should curdle the blood of every player in the league. Because if Roethlisberger goes down for this, anybody could be next. No charges? No problem. All the NFL needs is an allegation.

To understand how strongly I feel about this position, you have to understand how strongly I dislike Ben Roethlisberger. He's a serial idiot -- a stupid, cocky caricature of the modern-day athlete. Teammates don't like him. I can't stand him. I tolerate his existence by ignoring him whenever possible, but I can't ignore what Goodell is about to do -- not merely to Roethlisberger, but to my idea of justice. Suspending a player for one or two incidents that didn't merit a single criminal charge is an injustice. Once upon a time, Goodell had the right idea when it came to policing his league. But that time has gone. The NFL has become a police state. Enough is enough.

Never thought I would say this, but I'm saying it:

Roger Goodell must be stopped.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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