The negative conduct of players in the NFL is at an all time high. As a former NFL player I have seen many incidents of bad player conduct both on and off the field. In this article I am going to discuss why I believe player conduct is getting worse every season.
First of all, the NFL player culture is evolving. When I came into the league in 1999, there were veteran players who would mentor you and basically take you in as their little brother. My mentors included Tony Siragusa, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and other fantastic veteran players. Besides acting as mentors and team leaders, these veterans also made sure the young players behaved themselves and stayed out of trouble. Where the NFL is evolving now is that the average “veteran” player is only 28 years. The younger 21-23 year old players do not respect the older players because the older players are on average only 5-6 years older.
But here is the real problem. The young high draft pick players entering the league are making just as much money and sometimes even more money than the experienced veteran players. This creates two major problems. First, it is hard for a young player to respect older players when that young player is earning more money than the veterans. Second, the older players are jealous and they resent the younger players for being paid more when they haven’t even proven themselves in the NFL. Needless to say, this creates a lot of friction between veteran and new players. How would you feel at your job if every year your company hired new kids fresh out of college and paid them more money than they pay you? Would you want to mentor them and help them out so they can take your job? Probably not. You would resent them because they are being paid far more money than you are even though you are the person with all the knowledge and experience. You would also probably be mad at your company for being unfair with how they pay you compared to the new kids that you have to help train. This is the problem that is hurting the NFL.
Because of all this friction over pay, players like Pacman Jones from the Tennessee Titans and Anthony Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals are not being mentored by the veteran players and taught how to behave as a professional. A way to look at this is to see the veteran players as fathers for the younger players. The veterans teach the younger players how to behave as a professional and when the younger player gets out of line, the veterans let him know this behavior will not be tolerated. Then, when that young player becomes a veteran player, he then teaches the new players how to behave and act like a professional. This is how the system has worked since the beginning of the NFL. But now it is stopping because of all the jealousy over money and the league focusing more on younger players.
As a former NFL player who was mentored by veteran players, I understand what the fans are expecting from us as players and there are no excuses for bad player behavior. When you make mistake after mistake you must pay the price for your actions, and Pacman and Henry will pay for their bad behavior.
However, there is some good news. The NFL commissioner Roger Godell is making progress on solving this problem. He just created the first NFL player Council to get ideas from players to learn what he can do to help young players who keep getting into trouble. To keep the number one sport fun for everybody, the NFL must work together as a team and it must get back to the mentoring program.