National Columnist

Bad behavior during lockout cannot go unpunished


This opinion of mine feels like a loser. Like a lot of my opinions, right? Shaddup. But the truth is, I'll probably be proven wrong by a court some day for saying what I'm saying today, which is this: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should be able to punish the likes of Kenny Britt, DeSean Jackson and Aqib Talib for their misconduct during the NFL-imposed lockout.

This isn't an opinion based on logic, but feel. It doesn't look right, no. But it feels right. Talib allegedly swings a pistol at a man, then goes for efficiency and starts shooting the damn thing? He should get punished by the NFL, lockout or not.

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Seems obvious to me, but this feels like a losing position should it go to the courts -- as it surely would -- if Goodell tries to hammer Hines Ward for his DUI arrest, James Harrison and Jackson for spitting out gay slurs, or Britt for his mini crime spree.

You and I both know how this will play out: Goodell suspends, say, Britt for two games for his multitude of arrests during the lockout. Britt's attorney seeks relief through the legal system, arguing that (A) the Collective Bargaining Agreement had expired before the arrests and (B) all NFL players were locked out by the owners. Therefore, the league had no say over a player like Britt.

Fine. Let the courts decide. Whatever a judge says about Goodell's right to impose the NFL's conduct policy during the lockout, I can live with it.

Meantime, what I cannot support is the feeble idea that Goodell can't do anything -- shouldn't even try to do anything -- because the players have been locked out by owners. Supporting that sentence is the same as supporting this one: Players have carte blanche to embarrass the NFL during the lockout.

That's ridiculous. Whether they're cashing checks or not, veteran players like Talib, Harrison and Jackson -- prominent players before the lockout, and prominent players after it -- are always representing the NFL. The lockout is a temporary thing. We all know that.

Personal conduct is permanent.

So is the stain that DeSean Jackson, to name one person, brings to the league when he digs deep into his reservoir of personal insults and decides the meanest thing he can do to a caller on a live, national radio show is to mock his sexuality -- thereby mocking the sexuality of millions of people in the process. That can't happen, lockout or not, without Roger Goodell at least trying to hammer Jackson for his bigotry.

But let's not get confused here, please. This isn't about gay slurs. Been there, done that, and then I read the despicable comments on the message boards below that story on Jackson's slur. Please, let's not rehash that whole thing. I have my rock, you have yours. Stay under yours.

Don't get hung up on politics or even on the popularity of the NFL commissioner, such as it is. You can be angry at his role in this lockout -- as I'm angry about it -- without veering off point: Can Goodell punish players for misconduct if the league has locked them out?

According to a poll in USA Today, you're torn on the subject -- but generally say no.

No, said 59 percent of you this week, Goodell cannot punish players for their actions during the lockout. Stone-cold reason wins, and hooray for that! Meanwhile, Garrett Wolfe spent part of the lockout in Miami Beach. And while he was there, police say, he refused to pay a bar tab, got physical with bouncers and then assaulted two police officers. The courts will judge Wolfe. But Roger Goodell cannot.

Does that feel right to you? It doesn't feel right to me. It doesn't feel right to Goodell, either, based on comments elsewhere in that USA Today story, comments from March when he admitted that he didn't know how the personal conduct policy would or even could be applied during the lockout -- but added, "I feel strongly about it. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our game, to respect the people who played ... and were involved in the game before us. So I believe [discipline] is important to our league, important for our fans."

That's his opinion. Mine, too. It might not be the answer you'd check off on the LSAT, but we're not in law school here. We're in the real world, with real NFL players making real asses of themselves. So Goodell has two options -- one of them being to grit his teeth and ignore screw-ups like Kenny Britt, Aqib Talib and DeSean Jackson.

I like Goodell's other option:

Punish 'em all, and let the courts sort it out.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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