Reducing Off-Season Arrests of NFL Players

It is no secret that the off-season arrest of its players is an issue facing the NFL.  The most recent player arrest came on August 11, 2012 when Chad Johnson was arrested in Florida in a domestic battery case.  Earlier in the summer, former Detroit Lions player Aaron Berry was arrested for a second time during the NFL off-season on handgun charges.  While their cases differ, one thing is similar between Johnson and Berry’s situations:  both of their teams released them.

While the Dolphins released Johnson and the Lions released Berry, the issue remains that under the terms of the NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement, there is no clear-cut way for NFL teams to fully address the rising problem of off-season arrests.  The CBA allows Roger Goodell as NFL commissioner to levy fines and suspensions for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game of football.”  Additionally, it allows individual teams to fine players up to one week’s worth of their salary or to suspend them without pay for four weeks for conduct detrimental to the club.  While some may argue that the existence of these penalties within the CBA should be enough to curb player arrests, these penalties are clearly not serving as a big enough deterrence given the high number of off-season arrests.

As noted above, the CBA only allows for fines and suspensions to be imposed for detrimental conduct.  By adding a term to the CBA allowing teams to release a player from their rosters for detrimental conduct, the NFL could drastically reduce the number of off-season arrests.  While both the Dolphins and the Lions released Johnson and Berry nearly immediately after their respective arrests, the fact of the matter is that the terms of the CBA did not allow either team to release the players for their arrests alone.  Rather, each team had to rationalize the players’ releases upon additional factors, such as their on-field performance and inability to fit into the team’s system of play. 

A provision within the CBA allowing teams to release players for detrimental conduct would allow teams to skip the public facade seen in the Johnson and Berry cases and cut straight to the chase:  Some teams do not want players on their rosters who cannot abide by the law.  Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, addition of such a term would send a message to NFL players that the league does not condone criminal activity.

Addition of a term allowing a player’s release for being arrested would face strict opposition and scrutiny from the NFLPA.  Likely, the NFLPA would argue that addition of such a clause violates players’ due process rights.  However, if the NFL provided players with a hearing prior to their release, their due process rights would arguably be upheld.  Nonetheless, in future CBA negotiations, the NFL could send a strong message that off-season arrests need to be curbed by requiring the NFLPA to at least negotiating on this issue.  At a minimum, the NFL should consider increasing the penalties that a team can assess for conduct detrimental to the club under future CBAs. 

NFL fans and spectators of the game recognize that off-season arrests are an issue plaguing the league.  Going forward, the NFL needs to take proactive steps to ensure that its players are properly educated as to the risks involved with arrests and must also enact stiffer penalties to serve as a deterrence.

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