NFL Suspensions: Are Owners Exempt?

Kate Arhar
Senior Sports Editor

By Kate Arhar // @ClvlndK8

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft became the talk of the football world last Friday. No, not for winning yet another Super Bowl. It was because his name came up as part of an investigation in Jupiter, Florida, that was targeting a human trafficking ring.

According to 15th Circuit State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Kraft was issued a summons yesterday, formally charging him with two counts of soliciting prostitution in a Florida spa.

While we wait to see what, if any, action the NFL will take against Mr. Kraft, I thought I would take a look at how the NFL hands out punishments to players, referees, team personnel and owners. And what I found has left me kind of disturbed.

In researching suspensions, I look at the past five seasons. 50 players suspensions were handed out in 2014, 61 in 2016, 66 in 2016, 61 in 2017 and finally just 46 last season, 2018.  These suspensions meant 1,223 games missed and… wait for it…. $107,939,401.75 in forfeited game checks.

The Dallas Cowboys were the “Most Suspended” team, losing players for 99 games. The Seattle Seahawks were only without their guys for 10 games. The Miami Dolphins win for most money lost – $7,998,609.53, while the Tennessee Titan players only lost $164,076.

Offensive players seemed to be much better behaved… or else they commit less serious infractions. Both Offensive and Defensive players numbered 142 out of the 284, so split right down the middle. Surprisingly, or not, wide receivers lead the position group with 54 suspensions, while Free Safeties snuck in with just two.  (Note: There was ONE long snapper who got suspended, but, really?)

The reasons for these suspensions varies widely as well.  Substance Abuse was the reason for 125 suspensions, which is 44%. Next came PED’s – performance enhancing drugs – with 78, which is 27%. Off-The-Field incidents, Personal Conduct and Team Rule violations, as well as hard hits or other game misconduct are all pretty equal. Domestic Violence is the smallest category with just four suspensions.

I only bore you with all of these stats to point out how truly varied the offenders are. Different teams, positions, infractions and suspensions that run from one extreme to the other. Because when I looked at NFL owners, I was truly shocked to see that, since 1968, only TWO had actually been suspended by the NFL.

In 1999, Edward DeBartolo Jr, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, was suspended for an entire season as a result of a gambling related charges. In short, he paid a bribe to the governor of Louisiana in order to get a river boat casino license and got caught when that governor was being investigated. As a result, he ended up transferring ownership to his sister and moved on to other aspects of the families business.

In 2014, Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and drug possession. After pleading guilty to OWI, the NFL suspended him for six games. He went into rehab for his substance abuse problem and his daughter took over the day-to-day running of the team.

And that’s it. Two cases. Have other owners had legal troubles? Yes. Just google Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and you’ll see his federal problems regarding customer fraud allegations at his main business, the Pilot / Flying J truckstop chain. But was he suspended by the NFL after the FBI raided his Knoxville headquarters? No he was not.

There is already a perception among NFL fans, and most Americans if we’re being honest, that “Rich Folks” don’t deal with the same justice system or penalties that “Regular Folks” have to deal with. And looking at players who were suspended by the NFL, I see quite a few who were suspended 4-6 games when allegations were made against them for misconduct. Police investigated claims against players like running back Ezekiel Elliott, and quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston, no charges were filed, and yet the NFL suspended them anyway.

“Violating personal conduct policy,” or my favorite, “Conduct unbecoming to the league” are common reasons. And what could possibly be more “unbecoming to the league” than for an owner to be linked to a human trafficking ring? If the NFL wants to cement the feeling many fans have that they really don’t care about women, then by all means, look the other way while Mr. Kraft goes through the legal system.

But at some point in the very near future, fans are going to demand that these infractions deserve punishment. Players are going to ask why they are held to a different standard than owners. People will comment that there is a “Slave / Master” system going on here and the NFL won’t be able to talk it’s way out of that.

Because this case brings that hypocrisy to the forefront and players are no longer willing to just “shut up and dribble.” They are standing up for what is right, bringing social injustice into the conversation and this time, the injustice hits very close to home.

To quote the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy: It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.

I just hope NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acts before he’s pressured into doing the right thing.


Talk football with Kate on Twitter // @ClvlndK8 

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