Rich Hofmann | Pacman wrong target: Go after teams

Posted: April 11, 2007

PACMAN IS A wonderful nickname to put in a headline, which is one of Adam Jones' smaller problems this morning. The man is a well-publicized pimple, though, the ugly manifestation of an underlying issue.

The problem is not NFL players gone wild.

The problem is the teams that employ them.

Pacman Jones, Tennessee cornerback/serial knucklehead, is the lead story. He has been suspended for a year by new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry, another young role model way too familiar with the workings of the judicial system, has been suspended for eight games. This is all a part of Goodell's new policy of getting tough on those who would sully the name of the NFL by their off-field behavior, thereby removing bread from the mouths of wealthy owners and players throughout the land.

OK, that is too cynical a take. No one is really against what Goodell is trying to do (other than maybe a few members of the defense bar). The players union is pretty much applauding. Everybody is.

And while the new policy does state that teams also can be penalized under this plan, that really should be the centerpiece, not an addendum. Because the NFL could end this whole business tomorrow by putting the teams on the hook in a significant way for the actions of their employees.

But that is getting ahead of things.

"This is the thing that has become most apparent to me," said Joe Banner, the Eagles' president. "I've had the pleasure, or the luck, of having a job in this business for about 12 years. During that time, I've had the job and I've had young kids who follow the players.

"Anybody who is around the players will tell you the same thing: that, overwhelmingly, they really are hard workers, good role models, just good guys. But the public, even my kids, they get a distorted view because of a small number of individuals. That's the problem."

Banner says he likes the new policy. He speaks from a pretty secure perch. The Eagles have had very few bad-conduct issues in recent years, almost nothing worth talking about. They have stressed character for years, but they have simultaneously taken chances on some players with interesting legal detours during their college careers and seen them work out.

Again, we're talking about very few problems. Banner, though, is not kidding himself.

"Just think about the number of players we're talking about," he said. "At the end of the draft, we'll have about 88 players. Most are in their early 20s. We've had almost nothing happen in the last few years. I know at least some of that is just luck. I think you have an increased chance of being lucky if you make [character] a priority, and we have made it a priority. But we have been lucky. I know we've been lucky."

It seems that a fair look at this problem would identify two broad types of offenders. One group would contain not only the congenital thugs, but also the young men who arrive in the NFL toting every bit of the baggage that kids from America's underclass can accumulate. The other group, simply put, is made up of the ones who suddenly were made stupid by the money.

The players in that other group are the ones who have a chance to pull their lives together, the ones who can benefit from the counseling and the peer pressure and the fear of losing it all under the new policy. The first group, the one that arrives with the baggage, is much harder to remedy and maybe impossible. The notion that the NFL can fix it with suspensions is folly. Those are the guys you have to think really hard about keeping out of the league in the first place. That is where disciplining the teams has to become a real threat.

According to the policy announced yesterday, "In determining potential club discipline going forward, the commissioner will consider all relevant factors, including the history of conduct-related violations by that club's employees and the extent to which the club's support programs are consistent with best practices as identified and shared with the clubs. Recommended best practices include having a full-time club player development director and a full-time club security director."

All good, all fine. The word on the street is that clubs could be fined up to $500,000 and also would be subject to losing draft choices. Again, all good and all fine if it is a serious threat. Even then, the penalties should be harsher and swifter.

If you have a player get arrested for a serious crime, you should be allowed to dress two fewer players that Sunday. A second arrest on a team in a season would mean four fewer players another Sunday. A third arrest should cost you a draft choice, maybe a fifth-rounder. A fourth arrest in a season for a serious crime would require a team to fire the guy picking the players.

That would be enough right there. If that simple policy were in place, guys like Pacman Jones would never be drafted by anybody in the NFL. If coaches felt it on Sunday and felt it in April, they would not take the chance. As things stand today, the temptation to sign a thug and hope for the best is just too great - such are the pressures of winning in a hypercompetitive sport. The people picking the players need a new set of incentives. This could be it.

So, after the last Pacman Jones headline is written, we'll see. In the meantime, we anxiously await word on the penalties that will be given to the Cincinnati Bengals franchise, which last year founded the Arrest of the Month Club.

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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