After the recent barrage of criticism the National Football league (NFL) has been forced to weather over player conduct and the handling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson investigations, it has become obvious that the league needs a more clearly defined way to decide on disciplinary actions for its players.

The root of the league’s problems seems to come in the Code of Conduct its players are expected to follow. The Code of Conduct was published in 2007 and recent events suggest that it needs an update. The code clearly outlines the expectations for its players, stating that:“Engaging in violent and/or criminal activity is unacceptable and constitutes conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the [NFL]” It also outlines the cases for discipline, including everything from crimes to acts that tarnish the image of the league.

However, the NFL does not have a clear-cut process for determining disciplinary action for people who violate the code of conduct. No connections are clearly made between violations and their corresponding punishments.

In light of the recent scandal involving Ray Rice, the NFL no longer commands sufficient public trust to continue with its past course of action. The league needs to adopt a more transparent process for applying disciplinary action on the basis of the code violation committed by the player, not on a case-by-case basis; perhaps by pulling players from games if they are under trial and suspending them for a few games, or indefinitely, depending on what they are convicted of, and if they are convicted.

NFL football is the most popular sport in the US, and it broadcasts to a very large youth audience. The players are very high profile public figures, and because of their influence on young people, NFL players should be held to a high standard of behavior on and off the field.

If the league cares enough about its reputation to punish players that tarnish its image, it should be willing to discipline its players in a way that will truly deter them from violating the Code of Conduct. The policies could be easily streamlined if the league agreed to suspend players for irresponsible behaviors or accusations of illegal behavior, and in addition ban those who are convicted of breaking the law.

Consider Michael Vick’s conviction on charges of gambling and dog fighting. The NFL only gave him a suspension, allowing him to return to play only two years after his conviction and awarding him with comeback player of the year at the end of the season.

The problem doesn’t just lie with the league though, as fans also seem apathetic of their star players’ actions outside the stadium. Recently, a statue of the Baltimore Ravens fan favorite Ray Lewis was constructed outside the Ravens’ stadium, an honor that few other people convicted of obstruction of justice in a murder trial can claim.

Though much of the focus on reforming football today is centered around concussion prevention and  the prevention of violent hits, it seems that the league should place as much focus on the players’ actions off the field in addition. Football is a violent sport, and the league cannot afford to put people with questionable character on the field when a career, or even life ending injuries, are just one hit away.

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