The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


NFL personal conduct policy as bad as I feared


As I had feared, the NFL's alternate legal system (aka "Personal Conduct Policy") is a bit of a frightful mess. It applies

(a) to pretty much everyone touching the hem of the NFL's garment:

"to the Commissioner; all owners; all employees of the NFL, NFL clubs, and all NFL-related entities, including players under contract, coaches, game officials; all rookie players selected in the NFL college draft and all undrafted rookie players, unsigned veterans who were under contract in the prior League Year; and other prospective employees once they commence negotiations with a club concerning employment. Clubs and league staff are strongly encouraged to communicate this policy to independent contractors and consultants and to make clear that violations of this policy will be grounds for terminating a business relationship."

(b) to pretty much all conduct 24/7, whether job-related or not:

"If the league finds that you have engaged in any of the following conduct, you will be subject to discipline. Prohibited conduct includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Actual or threatened physical violence against another person, including dating violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and other forms of family violence;
  • Assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses;
  • Violent or threatening behavior toward another employee or a third party in any workplace setting;
  • Stalking, harassment, or similar forms of intimidation;
  • [P]ossession of a gun or other weapon in any workplace setting;
  • Possession, use, or distribution of steroids or other performance enhancing substances;
  • Crimes involving cruelty to animals as defined by state or federal law;
  • Disorderly conduct;
  • Conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person; and
  • Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.

and (c) whether or not such activity is lawful or unlawful:

"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. . . . In cases where you are not charged with a crime, or are charged but not convicted, you may still be found to have violated the Policy if the credible evidence establishes that you engaged in conduct prohibited by this Personal Conduct Policy."

Oh, and everyone subject to the policy (a category that includes secretaries in team offices, drivers of team buses, trainers, team statisticians, employees in the NFL Human Resources Department, . . .) has to "to promptly report any matter that comes to their attention (through, for example, victim or witness reports, law enforcement, media reports) that may constitute a violation of this Policy . . . [and] [f]ailure to report an incident will be grounds for disciplinary action."

I guess there are those who think the world's a safer and better place with the NFL looking over the shoulders of thousands of people and ready to discipline them if they misbehave, but I am not among them. If you believe that due process will be observed, and that anyone's interests other than the NFL's, will be protected by this policy, I respectfully disagree. And a world where employers start to "do more" to help stamp out harmful and improper conduct independent of our criminal and civil legal systems does not strike me as an improvement, and those who are heartened to see the NFL "taking action" here will live to regret it.