If you’ve been following sports at all this month, you’ve likely heard about the number of high profile arrests involving members of the National Football League.
Last month alone, the NFL saw a murder charge against (now former) New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez, an attempted murder charge against (now former) Cleveland Brown rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott, and an illegal weapons charge against Indiana Colts safety Joe Lefeged. In fact, a total of 27 NFL player arrests have happened so far in the 2013 off-season. This is almost double the number of arrests in the professional baseball, basketball, and hockey leagues combined! (Source)
It’s inevitable that all of this negative publicity is hurting the NFL. There are at least 17 different teams touched by the more than two dozen arrests these past few months and anytime a problem extends that wide, it usually runs top to bottom as well (Source). People are beginning to ask questions about how so many “bad apples” are able to slip through the cracks.
This string of charges leads us to the question of how much responsibility, if any, an employer has for an employee’s behaviour outside of the workplace. In this particular case, the NFL differs from a traditional workplace environment in that, once they are a part of a team, they arguably become a representative of that team both on and off the field. So do professional sports leagues have an even greater responsibility?
In response to these concerns, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told USA TODAY Sports said that the NFL is doing what it can to make sure its players are law-abiding citizens. According to Aiello, “We have policies and programs that hold all NFL employees accountable and provide them with programs of education and support.” (Source).
As NFL Commissioner Goodell noted in 2007 when the league expanded and strengthened its Personal Conduct Policy:
“We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League. It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff.”
And what are they doing to hold these higher standards? Goodell continued by saying “The NFL has a wide array of policies, programs and resources to assist and encourage responsible behavior by coaches, players, staff and their families. There are awareness and educational programs held year-round throughout a player’s career.” (Source)
Is having a policy enough?
Despite this apparent due diligence, the NFL remains plagued with a high number of arrests. This brings up the next question of whether or not having a policy in place is enough.
To answer this, let’s see how “having a good policy” held up in a past court decision in Virginia. In this case, two workers filed suit for discrimination based on a hostile work environment. Prior to this, the employer had created thorough anti-harassment policies that were adequately distributed to its employees. The employer had even investigated the complaints after they were filed and terminated a supervisor as a result. Seems sufficient, right? Wrong. In the end, the employer had to pay both workers out $2.6 million dollars each. When the court took a look at the facts and recent law, it decided that the issue boiled down to whether the employer effectively enforced its policies. Did the company exercise reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behaviour? Clearly the answer wasn’t yes. (Source)
The same can be applied to this situation with the NFL. When the NFL states that it has policies in place that hold all NFL employees accountable – it isn’t enough. The policies need to be effectively and tangibly enforced and paired with a full and impartial investigation into any potentially “risky” players.
In the case of Hernandez – the Patriots were well aware of his troubled past prior to signing him. It’s the balance between talent and character, and whether the talent is worth the risk. In this case, the Patriots thought it was. However, upon learning about Hernandez’s arrest, they promptly cut him from the team and allowed fans to exchange their used Hernandez jerseys for those of any other Patriot’s player.
So, in summary – yes, it is important to have the appropriate policies, programs, and resources in place to ensure that you are bringing aboard the right people. But it doesn’t stop there. It is also important to be sure that everyone in the organization is prepared to carry these procedures out fully and effectively. By overlooking character during the recruiting process to focus solely on talent or performance, you are putting your company’s reputation, workplace safety, and employee morale at risk.
If you need help with a difficult employee situation or any other HR inquiry, Clear Path Employer Services offers an HR-on-Demand service that brings you immediate access to experienced and local HR professionals. To learn more, check out our website: http://www.clearpathemployer.com/hr-on-demand.html
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