On Monday, Judge Sue L. Robinson accused the NFL of overreacting to public opinion in administering the personal conduct policy. She didn’t realize that public opinion drives all politics.
The policy exists as a mechanism for the league to take action against players and others who get into trouble while not at work. For most employers, behavior outside of working hours is not the business of the employer. But the NFL has made these issues its concern, as the public expects action to be taken against those who potentially squander the “privilege” of being associated with The Shield by getting themselves into trouble when they don’t. not operate under its auspices.
Still, the personal conduct policy involves a bit of a public relations balancing act for the league. It’s one thing to act when a situation off the pitch has been widely covered, discussed and reviewed, like the Deshaun Watson case. When someone is in trouble and the media fails to notice, the league must choose between taking action — and thus turning non-story into story — or letting sleeping dogs lie.
A perfect example of this dynamic comes from the NFL’s handling of Cardinals running backs coach James Saxon. On Friday, it was first reported that he was arrested in May on domestic battery charges. After the report was released, the Cardinals placed Saxon on paid administrative leave, on the recommendation of the league.
This timeline has led many to infer that either Saxon didn’t tell the Cardinals about the situation, or the Cardinals didn’t tell the league. This is not the case; As coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters on Friday, the team knew about the arrest when it happened, and the team reported it to the league at the time.
The league, according to the team, did not recommend an administrative leave until today after the report was released.
The implication is obvious. The league did not want to create a story out of the arrest of the Saxons when such a story did not exist. If he had been on administrative leave at the time, someone would have asked, “Hey, where’s Coach Saxon?” Waiting deliberately, no one knew. Which saved the league from having to deal with a negative story about a coach being accused of home battery.
There is a certain hypocrisy in the league’s decision not to take action until it has to. The NFL will sanction employees and teams who do not immediately report incidents. But the NFL reserves the right to hide such incidents from the public, if they are not generally known. Then, once someone reports the issue, the league will do what it should have already done — but didn’t want to do because it preferred no one to know about the arrest.