NFL Controversy in the 2015 Offseason

We aren’t going to lie to you. We kind of thought that we were done talking about football for a while. Sure, we may have given you a few betting tips for avoiding failure when the 2015-2016 season does roll around, and we put out a beginner’s guide for football betting (although this was mostly an addendum to the beginner’s guides we had already put out for baseball and basketball). But aside from that, it seemed like the outcomes of the 2015 NFL Draft would be the last major news on the football front for at least a couple of months.

Oh, how wrong we were. See, every once in a while, we like to talk about the seedier side of the sports world, both on the side of the players and the fans. And we’ve been seeing quite a bit of that in the past couple of weeks alone. Some of it is arguably overblown, but we’re here to catch you up on what football fans (not to mention the press) have been complaining about. We’ll let you know which stories are the most recent, and what everyone has been saying about them.

Before we get to the juicy bit, we’d like to make two brief caveats. First, very little of what you’re about to read will influence any of your endeavors as a sports bettor next season. Deflategate might, but we’ll cover that when we get to it. Second, it isn’t our place to tell you what to think about any of the people mentioned below. While we don’t always shy away from expressing our opinions, the difference between news and gossip or character assassination is not lost on us.

Furthermore, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of everyone here at WePickSports. So if you have a slightly different take on what’s been going on, don’t think for even a second that you don’t still have some friends here. That said, let’s get started.

NFL Controversy #1: All Kinds of Legal Troubles

Unfortunately, there is nothing new about players facing legal issues. When many people think of NFL controversy, they are apt to think of names like Michael Vick. And while he may not have returned to the field after his run-in with the law, you’re more than likely to encounter at least one or two conversations in which mention is made of O.J. Simpson. (On the off-chance our article on “the juice” is auto-linked at the bottom of this page, rest assured that the two are not related. “Juice” is a surprisingly versatile word in the world of sports.)

One of the most major controversies actually started last month, with RB Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. In mid-April, Peterson finally saw the end of his five-month paid suspension, which had been issued due to charges of misdemeanor reckless assault (which had been talked down from felony child abuse). Some felt that the punishment was too severe, while others felt it was not severe enough. Now, the NFL Players Association is arguing the decision on Peterson’s suspension, with a hearing that will likely take place near the start of the 2015-2016 season. In other words, an NFL controversy that has been over for nearly a month is about to be drawn out until close to the end of the year.

Of course, many fans who defend Peterson are not doing so because of their beliefs regarding his methods of child rearing, but rather because they feel that off-field issues should not be our concern to begin with. And that same issue is at the center of DE Frank Clark, recently drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. It has only been about six months since he was arrested on charges of domestic violence, and only one month since he managed to talk that charge down to disorderly conduct.

GM John Schneider has defended the Seahawks’ selection, openly disagreeing with the information in the police report and stating that Clark likely did not harm his girlfriend. It is unclear how Seattle went about performing their own investigation, since they did not appear to have contacted any witnesses in the case (except for, of course, Clark himself). But forget about whether or not he’s guilty. To some, the issue is something else entirely. Namely, why are NFL teams performing investigations into legal matters in the first place?

Another major legal issue at the moment revolves around someone who wasn’t drafted at all, despite having been a major name on our first round mock draft (and many others’ as well). We’re talking, of course, about former LSU OT La’el Collins, who recently signed with the Dallas Cowboys. The controversial issue pertains to the double murder of a pregnant acquaintance of Collins, as well as her unborn child. This one is almost certainly overblown, as claims by both Collins and his lawyer that Collins was never a suspect have been corroborated by Baton Rouge police. He has answered all questions and has even been issued a paternity test to limit questions of motive.

Frankly, it seems like there’s no real NFL controversy in Collins’ case. Collins appears to be performing his civic duty (he lost quite a bit of money by forgoing the draft to cooperate with police interrogation), and he is the victim of little more than bad timing followed by a couple of slow news weeks. That said, it’s a little unfortunate that the deaths of a young mother and unborn child have been overshadowed by questions regarding a football player’s career.

The other major player who’s been in the news for legal-related issues is the top pick of the draft himself, QB Jameis Winston. Of course, his latest run of NFL controversy is nothing new—as we’ve pointed out before, he went into the draft with a few legal concerns that made him seem like a bit of a liability for whichever team decided to draft him.

One of his many legal issues was the rape allegation by an FSU student. Many have claimed that the investigation was something of a blunder, but Winston’s accuser is now filing a suit against him. Winston’s lawyer has since been spouting off to the press that the whole thing is a stunt. It had better be, as any errors in the investigation are bound to receive more press if Winston’s accuser continues to press the issue.

However, this serious legal matter has been overshadowed by something far less insidious: crab legs. You may think that we’re joking, and you’re half right—we should be. While it doesn’t look good on Winston’s list of other legal issues, and his story that a Publix employee gave him a “hook up” is sketchy at best, Winston’s theft of crab legs is hardly the greatest crime ever committed. In fact, one restaurant in Tampa Bay has made light of the new Buccaneer’s legal issues, offering him free crab legs for life.

But many are angry that Winston himself has apparently decided to make light of the issue, celebrating his draft pick by posting a photo of himself to Instagram in which he appears with a gigantic plate of crab legs. It’s humorous, to be certain, but making light of his legal issues doesn’t make him look like too much of a class act. If that’s even what he was doing. Those who saw the photo may have noticed that his smile was innocuous, and the crab legs were barely even in frame. And the whole thing was captioned with a note of appreciation toward Captain Coburn of Deadliest Catch, who supplied the crab legs for Winston’s draft party. Winston has since taken the picture down, and the new ridiculous controversy revolves around whether or not the Bucs advised him to do so.

The issue with all of these controversies is essentially the same. Ideally, off-field issues should not affect who gets signed to a team or how much they get paid. That should be based on their abilities on the field. But how is this different from any other job? Most employers perform background checks, and they have the right to deny employment to someone with a checkered past. In fact, the main difference is simply that football players have the potential to become role models. And that’s where we get stuck. Football players should be able to just play football, but their position as public figures makes it hard not to question their lives off the field. So you can’t really expect this type of NFL controversy to go away any time soon.

NFL Controversy #2: How to Handle Deflategate

Well, obviously they weren’t that deflated. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Well, obviously they weren’t that deflated. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of NFL controversy that doesn’t go away when you think it will, remember Deflategate? It popped up before the Super Bowl even started, and then it just sort of went away. Of course, while it was here, the NFL fueled the controversy just a bit by posting numerous photos of uninflated balls. It seemed like a pretty big blunder, although numerous internet conspiracy theorists posited that the NFL was actually taking advantage of Deflategate in order to boost publicity. Because much like Jameis Winston discovered with his draft day crab legs, people have trouble believing that a picture is ever just a picture.

In any case, Deflategate never truly went away. After allegations that the New England Patriots had been using footballs below the required PSI in order to better Tom Brady’s grip when they played the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship early this year (not to mention the obvious suspicions that Tom Brady was in on the whole thing), the news just simmered down for a little while in order for an investigation to take place. Over a hundred days later, a whopping 243-page report was released that spurred the return of the topic to mainstream news media.

The new issue, of course, is not whether or not the balls were deflated. It appears that they were not only deflated, but that Patriots staff more than likely used underinflated balls on purpose. Even worse, the report decided that Tom Brady was probably well aware of what was happening. As a result, the quarterback was suspended for four games once the season starts. And until those games actually roll around, you can bet that a great deal of press aimed at the 2015-2016 season will make mention of the suspension and whether or not it was fair. It comes as no surprise that Brady doesn’t seem to think so, and it has been reported that he intends to appeal the decision.

There are various reasons that people have for stating that the punishment is unfair. Some believe that punishing Brady makes it look as if he has acted alone. Of course, the New England Patriots were punished as a result of the NFL controversy as well. Not only were they fined to the tune of $1 million, but they also lost their first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. This would already seem harsh to some people, but the whole thing was topped off by the loss of their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. In short, they’re going to be feeling this one for a while.

In criticizing the decision, many have decided to put the blame on attorney Ted Wells, who led the investigation. Needless to say, a fair bit of that criticism has come from Brady’s agent, Don Yee, who believes that Wells allowed the league office to influence the report that he made. The attorney has since denied this, additionally stating that Brady and his agent were partly to blame for the severity of the punishments. According to Wells, Brady would not allow investigators access to his cell phone or even relay information possibly contained therein.

It helps that Brady looks so contrite. (Charles Krupa/REUTERS)

It helps that Brady looks so contrite. (Charles Krupa/Reuters)

Wells also stated that the office of the New England Patriots was less than cooperative, as he was not able to have a second interview with Jim McNally, one of the staff members charged with deflated balls alongside staffer John Jastremski. The whole issue has become a matter of each person’s word against the other’s, although Wells seems pretty confident in his position. He has even potentially called Don Yee’s bluff. When the agent threatened to publish notes he had taken during the investigation that would prove Wells had not conducted the investigation fairly, Wells expressed that he was absolutely fine with that idea.

Regardless of whether or not the investigation by Wells was influenced by outside parties, there are some who think the punishment to be too excessive. For one thing, it never really stated that Brady was guilty beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt. And since the investigation was carried out by an attorney, those last two words seem pretty heavy. In addition, the number of suspensions is the same as those given to players who have been charged with using performance enhancing drugs, not to mention players such as Ben Roethlisberger who were suspended after criminal charges of a sexual nature. Heck, Brady actually received twice as many suspensions as Ray Rice, who was charged with domestic violence.

But, as with any NFL controversy, there are detractors on both sides of the decision. And even though there are those that think the punishment was too excessive, there are also some who feel as if the punishment was not severe enough. This is not the more popular view by any means, but it doesn’t take much in the way of mental gymnastics to see where this viewpoint comes from. The fact of the matter is that the New England Patriots have been accused of cheating before, and some believe that the harsh punishment of Deflategate is actually a result of what some considered to be a lackluster punishment for Spygate. Both occurred under the purview of head coach Bill Belichick (or Beli-cheat, as he is not-so-cleverly called by some), and there are a few football fans who believe that it is time for Belichick’s resignation. Or, in the case of punishments, his outright removal.

Of course, Spygate, in which the Patriots were found to be filming the Jets and their defensive coaches to see how they signaled their plays, did not go unpunished. Belichick had to pay half a million, and the team itself was fined a quarter million. The team also forwent their first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft as a result. So that begs the question of how there could be some people who feel that Spygate was not harshly punished while the punishment in Deflategate is overly excessive. It would appear that it comes down to the fact that people would rather see Belichick get punished than Brady. And for two cheating scandals, it does seem that the fines and loss of draft picks should be the same. As for the suspensions, that’s anyone’s guess. But there’s another ongoing NFL controversy at play here, which we will now address.

NFL Controversy #3: Commissioner (In)competence

When people question your merits in a position of authority, flash the peace sign. Worked for Nixon. (Reuters)

When people question your merits in a position of authority, flash the peace sign. Worked for Nixon. (Reuters)

It comes as no surprise that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tends to come up in discussions of just about any particularly major NFL controversy, so it should come as even less surprise that Deflategate is no exception. When people question whether or not Deflategate is being handled properly, they are really questioning whether or not Goodell knows how to do his job. And since one of the primary issues at the heart of Deflategate is whether or not worse offenders have been given more lenience than Brady has been given.

In fact, the issue with Ray Rice mentioned above presents something of an intersection between the two controversies we have already mentioned. The first NFL controversy revolved around whether or not off-field issues should affect the league’s treatment of players at all, while the second revolves around the extent to which players and their teams should be punished for various transgressions. To anyone who believes that off-field issues should be taken into account, then Brady’s four suspensions seem even more notable in light of the two suspensions that Rice received for charges of assault against his fiancée. The result is a situation in which Goodell’s choices likely would have been questioned whether he brought the hammer down or not.

And if it seems unfair that people are judging Goodell so harshly right now, then let us remind you that he doesn’t exactly have the worst job in the world. The man who made $11.6 million between 2010 and 2011 (which is already a pretty sizable sum of money) is now reportedly getting paid more than $44 million a year. So while he may take a lot of heat in the press, it isn’t as if he’s going home to a small studio apartment to be alone with his thoughts. At the end of the day, he has quite a bit to go home to. Money may not buy happiness, but $44 million doesn’t hurt.

Of course, that figure might actually be set to change. Reports have stated that his new salary, as the NFL gives up its tax-exempt status, is not to be disclosed. It is unclear as to why this decision has been made. And while some may believe that the decision not to disclose his salary is an indication that he will be making more, this is not necessarily true. He could be making the same amount, or even less. If anything, it seems as if the decision not to disclose Goodell’s salary might be based upon the sheer amount of hatred that has been fired at him as a result of how much he makes in the first place.

And you’d think that the NFL giving up its tax exemption might be considered good news by some. But as we said above, there are generally detractors on all sides of any NFL controversy. While it seems as if an organization making literally billions of dollars in revenues should absolutely be paying taxes, some have pointed out that this allows them to keep their finances out of the public eye. See, the only reason we knew the commissioner’s salary in the first place was because the NFL had to disclose parts of their annual tax returns to the public. Once they become taxable, this will no longer be the case.

In other words, much like Deflategate, the decision to give up the NFL’s tax exemption has placed Goodell in something of a catch-22. While there are some who feel he has done the right thing, others are angry that the NFL wasn’t paying taxes to begin with. And then there are others who feel that the NFL should be paying taxes, but don’t think it’s fair for them to be allowed to keep certain information private. It seems like Goodell is making the right decision here, but people on both sides are still complaining about him.

But these are major issues. Surely, Goodell is able to catch a break when nothing serious is going on. Except that, no, that’s not quite the case. If you look up Goodell’s name alongside Marcus Mariota’s, you’ll see that he came up quite a bit in the wake of the 2015 NFL Draft. And it wasn’t because of anything serious. It was because of the way he talks.

It’s not what you said, Roger. It’s how you said it. (Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not what you said, Roger. It’s how you said it. (Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports)

If you don’t know what we’re talking about, then seriously, look it up. You’ll find all kinds of articles, even by the Associated Press, dedicated to the fact that Goodell mispronounced one syllable of Mariota’s name. He ended Mariota’s name with a long “oh” sound instead of a short “uh” sound. A number of the articles you’ll find on the issue are aimed at making Goodell look out of touch for not knowing the name of a Heisman-winner. They also take issue with the way he pronounces the word “Oregon.” Again, this isn’t just tabloids. Actual mainstream news outlets decided that, in the wake of the 2015 NFL Draft, this was a more important issue to talk about than who got drafted and who didn’t.

So maybe, even with his outlandishly high income, it isn’t easy to be Roger Goodell. Imagine having literally every word you say scrutinized. Imagine taking heat whenever one of the multitude of players in the NFL commits a crime or cheats at a game, because you either handled it too harshly or not harshly enough. Literally everything he do seems to spark a controversy, at least according to the press.

And that’s the real issue here. Yes, there is some question as to whether or not Roger Goodell is competent when it comes to his job. You could ask that question of literally anyone. But the press is usually what creates controversies whether they truly exist or not. When Mariota was interviewed about his name being mispronounced, he wasn’t even aware that it had happened. And the main issue regarding Deflategate shouldn’t necessarily be how it’s handled, but rather that it happened in the first place.

But since Goodell is the face of the NFL, it’s easy to come down on him for any NFL controversy that becomes big enough to warrant action from the league. So whether you think he’s competent or not, you can be sure of one thing—the next guy who gets his job is going to face the exact same criticism whenever the press finds something new to complain about.