The recent upholding of the six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has left many fans wondering. Why six games?. What about Elliott’s salary?. Why can he play in the team’s first game of the season?. All are great questions and it brings to mind the National Football League’s whole system of NFL suspensions, fines, and other discipline. One thing is for sure. Any form of discipline handed down by the league is fluid and could change from one incident to the next.
NFL Suspensions Policy
The league has certain rules and regulations that must be followed by players, coaches, and even front office executives. The NFL has a substance abuse policy that governs everything from steroids to marijuana. In fact, the league’s policy on marijuana dates back to the early 1970s long before performance enhancing drugs became an issue. The NFL has a separate personal conduct policy that covers pretty much everything else. The recent number of players dealing with domestic violence issues are dealt with by the league under personal conduct policy.
NFL Substance Abuse
One of the big issues currently in the NFL is its stance on marijuana. The drug is legal for medical use in several states throughout the country. There are players and other advocates who believe that the drug is a more effective pain killer than other drugs on the market. Still, it is illegal and a banned substance as far as the NFL is concerned. The league’s NFL suspensions policy does give players a chance, actually several, before suspending them from playing.
Players who have never tested positive for marijuana are tested once per year. The tests are done between April 20 and August 9. Players are given a three-hour warning before the test which must be witnessed by the person collecting the sample. Players who test positive for the first time are referred to the league’s substance abuse program. They are not fined or suspended. Once a player has tested positive, he will be subjected to more frequent, random testing throughout the year.
A second violation of the NFL suspensions policy will result in a fine that is the equivalent of two game checks. The third violation is a fine equal to four game checks. It is only after the fourth violation of the substance abuse policy that a player is suspended. The standard suspension length is four games. Any player who is nabbed fifth time will receive a 10-game suspension and, as in the case of players like Pittsburgh’s Martavis Bryant, a sixth violation will result in a one-year banishment.
Watch Martavis Bryant talk about his suspension and his Highlights of 2017
NFL Performance Enhancing Drugs
The NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids is harsher than the league’s stance on marijuana. Testing is the same. Players who have never violated the policy are tested once each year. Those with a violation are tested more frequently, as many as 10 times per month. Unlike marijuana testing, PED testing is done randomly each week. A number of players from each team are chosen at random to be tested. This continues throughout the postseason.
Punishment is a lot stricter for PEDs. An initial positive test results in a two-game suspension without pay. Any positive tests for masking agents or stimulants will result in a four-game suspension and any player who tests positive for both will miss six games. Second time offenders have it even tougher. They miss 10 games. If there are not 10 games remaining in a season, the suspension carries over to the next season.
Players are also penalized for missing drug and PED tests. Any player who misses a test is treated as if they failed the test. Fans across the nation may not be aware of suspensions as much of the information regarding a player’s medical and drug history is confidential.
NFL Personal Conduct
The NFL’s personal conduct policy is one that was created to ensure the integrity of the league. Any conduct detrimental to the league or any conduct that would make the public lose confidence in the league is considered punishable. The policy covers all players, coaches, officials, front office executives, and other team employees. The policy holds all those associated with the NFL to a higher standard. Elliott’s current case is one that is governed under personal conduct.
It is not enough to just avoid being charged with a crime or found guilty of committing one. In many cases, players are charged by the legal system. Take former Baltimore RB Ray Rice as an example. Rice was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault in an incident in which he struck his then-fiancee. Rice was suspended by the league indefinitely (the suspension was overturned on appeal two months) and has not played since.
Other players, like Elliott, are not charged with any crime but have been found to have participated in certain behaviors that are considered conduct detrimental to the league. Elliott was not charged with any domestic abuse or violence though he did find himself in hot water for pulling down the shirt of a woman during a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Players can also be suspended for violating the league’s safety rules. Cincinnati LB Vontaze Burfict has been suspended twice in the last year for “repeated violations of safety-related playing rules.” Burfict will miss the Bengals first three games of the 2017 season for a hit that he put on Kansas City FB Anthony Sherman.
One of the biggest recent NFL suspensions scandals involved New England quarterback Tom Brady. Deflate-gate, as it became known, involved the deflating of game balls prior to a Patriots-Colts playoff game during the 2014 season. The Patriots reportedly under-inflated game balls so that they were easier to throw and catch in the cold conditions in Foxborough, Mass. The league found the Patriots guilty and suspended Brady for four games, fined the team $1 million, and took away two draft picks from the team.
So far this season, there have been 34 player suspensions. Most are due to violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Elliott and the NFL’s Players’ Association filed an injunction to provide relief for the Dallas running back. He will likely be available for the entire season while his case is tied up in the legal system.