By Coach Will ‘Chino’ Downing
Let us start off with two phrases that seem to go together: ‘Criminal Activity’ & ‘NFL Player’. The truth is the NFL produces far less criminals than the rest of the US population within a similar demographic. That demographic is 26 year old males (the average rostered NFL player is this age) who are on an average wage of $1.9million. It would seem that the NFL, amidst other historical allegations of corruption, cheating, racism, sexism, profiteering and fickle ignorance of basic science, at least fosters a superior moral compass for its players than the average American workplace. As I say, despite the historical allegations of corruption, cheating, racism, sexism, profiteering and fickle ignorance of basic science. Yes, despite those things…
Obviously it is alarming to see sportspersons indulging in criminal activity as they are seen as role models for, in my opinion, all age groups. Perhaps, also, because they are role models is why we hear about their criminal activity without it being put alongside the statistical averages of their demographic(s). Fair enough.
However, what it is alarming is how many incidences of criminal activity carried out by NFL players are directly about or as a result of substance misuse. These men are athletes. These men are responsible for being in great physical condition for not simply the success of their team, but for the safety of themselves, their teammates and their opponents – and they are remunerated for it incredibly via wages and sponsorship.
Since 1st January 2000 until 31st March 2016 there have been 818 arrests of NFL players. These arrests have been for crimes ranging from being drunk in public to murder but, of these 818 arrests, 378 of them have been a result of drink or drugs. That’s 46.2% of arrests that were related to substance abuse. Intriguingly, and thankfully, when filtering the data to only look at violence and aggression when substance abuse is a factor we are left with only 15 incidences or 1.8% of the total number of criminal activity – i.e. NFL players are probably the same as the rest of us in this regard. I have also quite generously removed instances of drink/drugs alongside gun possession from this filtering as far be it for me to wade in on the gun-control debate… yet.
Another factor to note is that 60.6% of substance abuse related incidences within the NFL happen in the off-season. Nevertheless, returning to the initial statement that NFL players are part of a demographic where they are significantly responsible for the safety of those around them, should they be indulging in substance abuse at all? Well, they are human beings who experience similar desires, similar mental health issues and a similar, if not more extreme, range of emotions than the average person… so of course they want a drink or a smoke… or a sniff, now and then. Well, no, it should be a standard that, if not already established, should be so for NFL players: A standard that says that NFL players are not permitted to excessively indulge in substances. The average NFL career is 3.5 years… surely you can wait that long?
I am a coach and the number one priority I have, the first thing you are taught when undertaking the training to be a coach, is duty of care. It is so serious that my role as a coach comes under the remit of Tort Law, that I have a legal obligation to safeguard and adhere to safety protocols for all players and peers within this environment.
The NFL is capable of addressing criminal activity by its players and, given that around half of that criminal activity is circulated around substance abuse, it would be extremely easy for head coaches to instigate measures to reduce these activities. The NFL is capable of doing this because it can impose minimum suspensions for the players – no pay and the distain of team mates that face extra pressure in games due to reduced manpower and would have had their safety risked if the player got away with it.
Domestic violence is abhorrent and Ray Rice should initially have been suspended for much longer, but all criminal and most unprofessional behaviour should be severely dealt with by coaches. If the organisation chooses not to have a responsibility for its players then I believe the coaches have, if somehow (as the result of some high-powered and extremely greasy lawyering) not a legal obligation, then coaches have a moral obligation to say, “look, if you want to earn $1.9million per year for the next 3.5 years then one of the rules you have to follow is no substance abuse.”
Basically, the rules of being in this elite and private club may seem unfair, but if you want to be a part of it then ‘dem be da rulez’. Follow them or walk away. It is simple.
Us coaches like to believe that we are listened to or at least our opinion is highly respected. Just ask Sean Payton about gun control. So, to wrap-up, firstly I would advocate that American football players should be held to a higher standard than significant other professions. Secondly I would advocate that (pursuant to Tort Law) coaches should have a huge responsibility for all the athletes around them (for which the coaches are also heavily remunerated at the professional and collegiate level in the US) and the coaches should not be able to rely upon hiding behind other variables once the players on the field if an injury happens. Thirdly the players also have a professional responsibility to avoid excessive substance abuse. Finally the coaching and players unions should advocate severe professional sanctions against players who abuse substances and the unions should stand behind coaches when they are pressured to circumvent or minimise punishment by the league or the owners.