Opinion

NFL Teams Claim To Be Policing Player Conduct – But What About Coaches?

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In the past decade or so, the NFL has begun to seriously crack down on its players off the field misconduct, but recent analysis shows the league has not been applying the same standards to its coaches and management.

The league implemented a strict personal conduct policy in 2014 after Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended just two games for allegedly knocking his then-fiance out on an elevator. After video emerged, the Ravens cut Rice and embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell profusely apologized for his leniency. (RELATED: Ray Rice Confirms He’s Done With Football, Discusses Kareem Hunt)

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens addresses a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Since then the league and its owners have taken pains to show they care about issues such as violence against women. Star running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Hunt have faced steep suspensions for domestic violence allegations, while elite receiver Antonio Brown was just released by the New England Patriots following multiple rape allegations.

However, a recent study conducted by USA Today found that teams across the league are still employing coaches with histories of domestic violence allegations and arrests. The article mentions Oakland Raiders strength and conditioning assistant Rick Slate, who has been arrested three times and issued at least five orders of protection over his alleged domestic abuse, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer, who face two order of protection petitions, one for allegedly choking a woman, and Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Collins, who was also subject to an order of protection filed by a female employee of the organization. The report states that the NFL doesn’t employ the same rigorous background check process for coaches as it does for players.

Those are just a few of the names who remain on NFL sidelines despite serious allegations of abusive behavior toward women. Buffalo Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was arrested for assault and battery in 2015, after allegedly punching his neighbor’s child in the face, and threatening to kill his entire family. Kromer was suspended for six games, but has faced no punishment since. For the past three years, he’s served as the offensive line coach for the Los Angeles Rams, who appeared in the Super Bowl last year.

There are numerous examples similar to this. Long-time NFL coach Tom Cable was accused by both of his ex-wives and one of his ex-girlfriends of domestic violence, but has been a mainstay on NFL sidelines for over a decade with little backlash. Same for former Buccaneers’ assistant Skyler Fulton, who was arrested for a domestic violence incident in 2010, but served as Tampa Bay’s receiving coach last year. Lest you think this just applies to obscure assistants, head coaches have also avoided the same scrutiny that their players have to deal with.

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia was indicted for sexual assault in 1996, but the incident remained relatively unknown until after Patricia had been hired by the Lions in early 2018. Patricia has strongly denied any misconduct.

Multiple sexual assault allegations and a separate older sexual harassment investigation  against long-time NFL defensive coach Vance Joseph resurfaced in early 2017 shortly after being named head coach of the Denver Broncos. Joseph was accused of rubbing his genitals against two unsuspecting women while an assistant at the University of Colorado. Joseph was fired in Denver following two losing seasons, but was swiftly picked up by the Arizona Cardinals as the team’s defensive coordinator earlier this year.

The Broncos and Lions faced little if any criticism over their decisions to hire Joseph and Patricia respectively and neither will likely have trouble finding work as long as they want it, which was evidenced by Joseph’s quick landing in Arizona. This certainly would not be the case if they were star players, which makes it clear that a double standard exists in the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks with the media during a press conference for Super Bowl 51 in February 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks with the media during a press conference for Super Bowl 51 in February 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

While the league has taken pains to assure fans and observers that they take domestic violence seriously, their actions don’t back up their words. Sure, one can say that many of these coaches including Joseph and Patricia were never convicted of a crime. This is a valid point, but ignores the reality that the league has suspended or jettisoned players such as Elliot and Brown, who have never faced criminal charges.

A simple analysis demonstrates that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s owners love making an example of star players who get in trouble, but apply a more lenient standard to coaches who attract less media attention.

In other words, the NFL seems to only truly care about domestic violence and sexual assault when fans and the media are paying attention.