Examining the NFL’s so-called system of justice

I sure hope that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a saint — because his law-and-order approach to football is flawed at best and downright ridiculous at worst. The commissioner recently suspended NFL player Donté Stallworth indefinitely for his role in a DUI case that left a pedestrian dead.

Let me be clear, I am disgusted that Stallworth only got 30 days for taking a man’s life. Yes, he stayed with the victim at the scene of the crime, immediately admitted wrongdoing to the police officer and has shown nothing but remorse for hitting and killing a man while driving drunk. Stallworth reached a settlement with the victim’s family for an undisclosed amount of money, plead guilty to the crime, will be under house arrest for two years after serving his sentence, made a donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and has lost his license for life. Yet and still, 30 days for taking someone’s life while driving drunk is too short.

Initial reports stated that the victim stepped in front of Stallworth’s vehicle, which was corroborated by witnesses; that may be why the judge was so lenient, coupled with the NFL player’s remorse, humility, willingness to cooperate with the justice system — and oh yeah, he’s a celebrity. In my mind, when you kill someone, even accidentally, while driving drunk, you should have to spend more than 30 days in jail. That’s just me. I’m not a lawyer or a judge, so I have to allow the justice system to do its thing, however flawed. I think that the justice system failed in this instance as it relates to Stallworth’s jail time, but it is what it is, whether he’s an average Joe or a celebrity.

Having said that, I do believe that the justice system exists for a reason and that the NFL should get out of the business of arbitrarily assigning further punishment to players. Commissioner Goodell spoke out against Stallworth suspending him from the league indefinitely. Even if the justice system goes soft on a criminal, it is not up to the NFL to go hard on him. I don’t think Stallworth should be suspended indefinitely, especially after he has paid his debt to society, which is what we ask of all Americans. I don’t think that professional athletes should be treated any differently.

I’m not saying that the NFL shouldn’t suspend Stallworth … but indefinitely? I feel the same way about Michael Vick. What he did was heinous, but he has paid his debt to society. He has been punished, so why must he continue to be punished by the NFL?

Just who is Roger Goodell? He must be perfect; and if he isn’t, he ought to be — based on how he wields his “gavel.” To show how imperfect the justice system is, Stallworth serves 30 days for killing a man, while Vick served two years for killing dogs. I am a dog owner and dog lover, but I would like for someone to spend more time in jail for killing me than for killing my dog. (And I love my pooty-wooty.)

I might agree with the commissioner’s punishment if he had consistency in how he dealt with players who commit crimes. I think it’s crazy that Michael Vick is suspended from the league indefinitely but Cornell Green of the Oakland Raiders is not, although he was arrested for slamming his girlfriend — the mother of his two children — into a wall and then beating her with an aluminum mop. Cedrick Wilson broke down a door and slapped his girlfriend in the face while arguing about whether to baptize their son. Falcons player Jonathan Babineaux was arrested and convicted for animal cruelty for bashing in the head of his girlfriend’s dog while they were arguing. Quinn Ojinnaka of the Falcons fought his wife after she confronted him about a woman on his Facebook page. For some reason, they are all still in the league.

Some of you are thinking that this is exactly why Commissioner Goodell needs to fine and suspend athletes. I’m thinking that this is exactly why he does not. It seems to me that his “moral barometer” is a little off and arbitrary. Why does he react so strongly to Vick and Stallworth, but remains silent in matters of domestic violence, which are far more prevalent in the NFL? I guess the justice system works all right when it comes to beating on wives and girlfriends, just not when it comes to beating on dogs.

Do you have to be charged with the crime or just accused of the behavior? When does one get suspended? Before or after being charged with a crime? If charges are dropped or the player is acquitted, should the NFL still punish the player? If so, how? What about the coaches? We won’t even mention the broadcasters.

My point is that the justice system is imperfect, and so is the NFL’s so-called system of justice. This is an organization that readily recruits thugs (some, not all) and criminals before they even set foot in the NFL. They know who many of them are before they get to the NFL, which is OK, as long as the NFL and owners can keep the money train rolling. If you don’t believe me, do a search of NFL players arrested and witness the ridiculous number of results.

Until Goodell and the NFL get some consistent guidelines for punishing crimes by players and coaches, and think about moral character when actually recruiting players, there will be no justice and no peace.

This post originally appeared in Creative Loafing where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

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