Jerry Jones has the same rights, or lack thereof, as his players

There is no question about it, the NFL personal conduct policy demands that “all persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.’”[1]  The policy includes as an example, “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.  Over the course of the 2017-18 season, Jerry Jones made several comments to the media making his stance against the player protests, the commissioner’s suspension of Ezekiel Elliot, and the commissioner’s extension clear.

Individually, Jones’ stance on the player protests could have been deemed conduct detrimental to the League.  Jones had claimed during the season that the anthem protests are causing the league to suffer, and prior to that Jones had stated that he would bench any of his players that disrespected the flag.[2]  Not only did Jones’ comments have a clear impact on the League’s image, but if anything, they worsened the conflict between the players, the public, and the other owners.  Not to mention it was also relatively damaging to the reputation of the players involved in the protests.

Jones’ actions with respect to the Ezekiel Elliot suspension could have also easily satisfied the threshold for League discipline.  Jones had said the Commissioner’s suspension was a result of an overcorrection after the fallout of the Ray Rice discipline.[3]  After the Deflategate debacle, Robert Kraft and the Patriots lost their first and fourth round draft picks, were fined $1 million, and Brady was suspended for four games.[4] At its most basic level, Ezekiel Elliot’s actions did not have direct and immediate impact on the “integrity of the game,” although some fans might say that it did affect their confidence in the League.

The final, and most damaging, aspect of Jones’ kerfuffle was his retention of attorney David Boies and threat of litigation against the League over the Goodell extension.  Unlike the players, Jerry Jones is not an at-will employee of the League and has not given up his constitutional right to freedom of speech, but he is bound by the League’s Constitution.  1997 Resolution FC-6, codified as Section 3.11(C) of the Constitution and Bylaws of the National Football League states that if any member club initiates, joins, or assists any lawsuit or other legal, regulatory, or administrative proceeding against the League, the club(s) involved in the claim are obligated to reimburse the League for legal fees, litigation expenses, and costs if the involved club(s) goal is not achieved.[5]  Elliott’s suspension was upheld, and Goodell received his extension, it would be hard to say Jones came close to achieving his goal.

Although it may not always seem the case, the NFL knows what it is doing.  With the recent news that Jones is appealing the “fine,” the League and owners may have determined that it was in everyone’s best interest for the fine to come from the other owners under the NFL Constitution, rather than risk another extended legal battle, possibly including Jones’ First Amendment right.[6]

[1] NFL Personal Conduct Policy (https://nfllabor.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/personal-conduct-policy.pdf)

[2] Todd Archer, Jerry Jones unequivocal: NFL ‘suffering’ from anthem actions (Oct. 23, 2017), http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21120644/jerry-jones-says-nfl-suffering-national-anthem-protests

[3] John Machota, Jerry Jones: Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot a ‘victim of an overcorrection’ by Roger Goodell, Dallas News (Oct. 31, 2017), https://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/10/31/jerry-jones-cowboys-rb-ezekiel-elliott-victim-correction-roger-goodell

[4] Peter King, The NFL Drops the Hammer, and Sends a Message, Sports Illustrated (May 11, 2015), https://www.si.com/2015/05/11/tom-brady-suspension-patriots-deflategate-punishment

[5] Const. and Bylaws of the NFL (http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/static/html/careers/pdf/co_.pdf

[6] Mark Maske, Jerry Jones will contest NFL’s $2 million penalty, requests hearing with Roger Goodell, The Washington Post, (Feb. 27, 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2018/02/27/jerry-jones-will-contest-nfls-2-million-fine-attempt-requests-hearing-with-roger-goodell/?utm_term=.7c86c8f9a59f

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