Goodell facing groundbreaking NFL rulings

BY Alex Marvez • June 22, 2009

In the real world, the legal consequences for committing a crime are set in black and white.

In the NFL, the potential punishment has more gray than the gibberish being spouted from the Brett Favre camp about his NFL future.

How long should a player be banned for killing someone in a DUI accident? How about for bankrolling a dog-fighting ring or a felony arrest for illegal weapons possession — especially when both incidents already have drawn NFL suspensions?

We'll soon find out.

Over the next few months, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faces his toughest rulings since instituting the league's personal conduct policy in April 2007. He will decide the fate of three players — Cleveland wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, ex-Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick and ex-Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress — whose off-field transgressions have damaged the league's image.

Barring further legal trouble, the trio should eventually get reinstated. But only one person knows when: Judge Roger.

By indefinitely suspending Stallworth last week, Goodell levied the stiff punishment that wasn't meted by the Miami-Dade court system. Stallworth's NFL exile will last longer than the 30-day jail sentence he was given as part of a plea deal for fatally striking a pedestrian in March.

Based on past precedent, Stallworth should only have to miss eight games before returning to the field. That was the penalty assessed by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue against St. Louis defensive end Leonard Little in 1999 following a similar DUI manslaughter incident.

However, Goodell isn't bound by Tagliabue's ruling. Judge Roger dishes reprimands at his own discretion. There are no rules that state a specific conduct violation brings a specific sentence. When players contest suspensions, Judge Roger hears the appeal.

Upon Stallworth's reinstatement, there will be immediate parallels drawn to Vick's punishment because of the fact Vick killed dogs rather than a person. The two cases, though, can't be directly equated. Vick directly lied to Goodell about his involvement in dog fighting while Stallworth hasn't tried to dodge accountability for his misdeed. Vick's wrongdoing included illegal gambling — a major NFL no-no even when not betting on football games — and a positive marijuana test.

Plus, Vick already was punished well before he began serving a 23-month prison sentence. Vick was barred for all of the 2007 campaign even though his legal fate wasn't decided until that December. After then spending almost two years in prison, when is enough enough?

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