National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, football’s top cop, has done well with the punishment portion of the equation.
He and his commissioner counterparts get lower marks with the more important part, the prevention, especially when the transgressions have to do with the mistreatment and objectification of women.
Surely Goodell and the other sports league commissioners would agree that it’s better to keep men from behaving badly than to suspend players who, oh, let’s say troll college bars for drunken women and wind up getting accused of sexual assault.
The football fans of Pittsburgh were so disgusted with the pattern of behavior demonstrated by their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, that management even considered trading the two-time Super Bowl winner. Only now does Roethlisberger, previously accused of sexual assault, seem to understand the gravity and consequences of his behavior.
Sports fans are usually a forgiving lot. But the reaction to Roethlisberger, especially in Pittsburgh, might have been a tipping point. The faithful were fed up.
While pro sports leagues and franchises invest untold time and money in developing the body, they’re delinquent in developing minds, especially when it comes to women.
The locker room, for the most part, is still a cave where crass and crude rule. It’s where women are referred to in any number of derogatory ways, none of which can be printed here. It’s where a National Basketball Association player once proudly displayed pictures of his topless girlfriend. It’s where a baseball team thought nothing of inserting a bat into a female blowup doll as a motivational tool.
And it’s the kind of place that fosters an atmosphere where a professional hockey player thinks nothing of using a crude term about a former girlfriend now dating another hockey player. That one drew a suspension. Punishment, not prevention.
Just boys being boys, we’re told. Well, the leagues should be hell-bent on putting a stop to it.
This doesn’t have to be about prudish. It’s about prudent.
If the players don’t want to hear a lecture about boorish behavior, fine. Maybe they will listen to what makes for bad business.
What all of sports needs to do is sell it to the players, as Goodell has recently started doing. Sell it again and again, over and over, until every player gets it, until they live it. Mandate daily reminders if needed. Ask every team to employ a team mother whose presence would serve as a reminder of respect.
Sell it as shrinking revenue, falling salary caps, lower pay. Just sell it. In this case, the results matter more than the motivation.
I have on more than one occasion been invited to speak at the National Basketball Association’s Rookie Transition Program. That’s where the first-year players spend a few days at some conference center taking part in seminars and role-playing activities, some of which center on sticky situations regarding women.
There’s never a shortage of women vying for the attention of pro athletes. Just ask Tiger Woods, who thought being rich and famous meant he was entitled but not accountable. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Look, no one is demanding celibacy. Just common decency.
A few players from the French national soccer team, including Franck Ribery, might have cost themselves a spot on the World Cup roster because of a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute. Did any of them think twice? Did they ponder the worst-case scenario and the repercussions? The goal here is to get players with so much to lose to stop and think.
Players, especially superstars like Sidney Crosby, LeBron James, Mark Sanchez and Joe Mauer need to understand they’ve become targets. Prying eyes don’t rest.
Players need to understand that TMZ started a sports-related Web site for no other reason than to grab headlines, eyeballs and advertising dollars with gotcha scoops and photos of players in compromising situations.
As NBA Commissioner David Stern pointed out, teams and leagues have player personnel departments designed to curtail bad behavior.
More is needed. It’s about changing a culture and a mindset.
The NFL suspended Roethlisberger for six games and ordered him to complete what it called a comprehensive behavioral examination by medical professionals.
“I am accountable for the consequences of my actions,” Roethlisberger said in a statement.
That’s the goal. To have every professional athlete say those nine words to himself every day. Twice if he’s in mixed company.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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