Good Intentions…

As the NFL continues to try to get itself on a positive side of the issue of domestic violence, the league announced recently that it will offer educational programs for players that center around socially acceptable behaviors and socially unacceptable behaviors. Good for the NFL; such programs cannot hurt. Nonetheless, count me as cynical on this one…

The fact of the matter is that every NFL player is an adult and adults arrive at a workplace with a set of life experiences. Every employer offers “training courses”/”indoctrination courses” that seek to focus new employees on the behaviors that are appropriate for the specific workplaces. With regard to most of those kinds of training endeavors, the idea of trying to mold “off-the-job behavior” is pretty far out in left field. And that is what the NFL is going to try to do here.

Look, those adults who play in the NFL – and the ones who coach and the ones who work in front offices and the ones who own teams and etc. – ought not to need an educational program to tell them the following:

    It is not socially acceptable to beat your wife/girlfriend/kids.

    It is not socially acceptable to drive drunk.

    It is not socially acceptable to [fill in the blanks here]

In addition to the expectation that none of those adults ought to need such programs, I wonder just how effective a “short course” along the lines of “Behaving Properly 101” will be in overriding the years of life experience for many of these athletes who have been conditioned to believe that their athletic prowess inoculates them from any consequences of their behaviors. The danger here is that these programs will provide a patina of security that the league and the teams are taking effective steps to deal with these image problems. I doubt that will be the case…

Moreover, even if these programs are designed and executed such that they have universally positive effects, the league needs to be sure to do two other things in conjunction with these programs:

    1. The programs must not be limited to players. Coaches have been known to behave badly; owners have been known to drive while impaired. Any programs that are mandatory for players must be mandatory for everyone else in the NFL including the Commish.

    2. The league needs to look at its “bureaucracy” and at the front office staffing for all 32 teams with an eye to this question:

      Do we have in place the right mix of professionals (psychology folks, security folks, counseling folks) to work with all employees to head off at the pass future incidents of gross anti-social behavior? It is not good enough to be wealthy enough to hire some smarmy “crisis communication consultants” after the fact. Are the organizations staffed properly to act proactively on this front?

Teams in the NFL are constructed and run with the idea that the single most important thing in the world is to win the next game and then to win the one after that… If the teams are expected to police themselves on anti-social behavior issues, that activity will almost immediately collide head-on with the “win now and win again” mindset. The conflict in terms of objectives here could not be more stark; teams just cannot be asked or expected to police themselves effectively.

In the last paragraph, I used the phrase “collide head-on” and that leads me to another problem the NFL faces. The concussion issue – in all of its ramifications – is another big problem for the league. Again, I think that the NFL has put in place “concussion protocols” that serve to provide a patina of “concern” and “activism” around the problem – but it is no more than a patina. Here is what a “dinged player” has to do to get back on the field:

    He must not show any of the overt symptoms of a concussion. If he can do that to the satisfaction of medical personnel on the sidelines, he can go back into the game. And, make no mistake here; the player prefers to go back into the game at least 99% of the time.

Once again, you have things working at cross-purposes only this time there are time constraints. After all, if the league protocols for a “dinged player” were to take 4 hours to complete, the player would de facto be barred from returning to any game where he had a problem. Aye, there is the rub…

Forget the case where the player was out cold on the field for 5 whole minutes before being revived to a blurry state of consciousness. That is the obvious case and it can be handled by someone whose only medical expertise comes from studying for the MCATs.

Since there is no rapid “litmus test” for a concussion that can be administered on the sideline where the results are comparable to litmus paper in a chemistry lab with regard to accurately detecting acids or alkalis, the protocol is subject to Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Some concussed players will be sent back onto the field; some non-concussed players will be misdiagnosed and prevented from playing again on that day.

Moreover, part of the protocol is to communicate with the player. If the player is motivated to be “uncooperative” or to be “less than candid” in his communication with the medics, the protocol itself is weakened even further than the real presence of Type 1 and Type 2 errors would suggest.

The fundamental idea here is a good one; I simply doubt how effective it is going to be.

Finally, since I am on the subject of the NFL, here is an observation from David Letterman the week after the Pats lost on national television to the Chiefs:

“The New England Patriots got routed 41-14, and a Kansas City Chiefs player was fined because he was in the end zone praying. That’s different than the New York Jets. They pray to get INTO the end zone.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………