A day after the NFL handed down a one-game suspension for former Pittsburgh Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount, the league issued its punishment for Le’Veon Bell on Thursday, and it came down harder than most anticipated.
It was announced yesterday that the All-Pro running back would be suspended for the first three games of the season. In addition to serving the suspension, during which he will be unable to participate in team activities or visit the team facilities, he will also be docked an additional game check, which knocks out a full quarter of his base salary.
It was widely believed that Bell was likely to be handed down a two-game suspension, based on the first-offense nature of the situation, while also taking into account pass precedents for similar violations.
But NFL, however, adjusted its collective bargaining agreement during the season as it pertains to the personal conduct policy in the wake of the Ray Rice disaster, and as part of that was a tweak to the league’s power to suspend players.
While the substance abuse portion of the personal conduct policy stipulated a two-game suspension for a DUI relating to alcohol, there is a stipulation within the rule that allows the league to double the punishment for other substances for first offenders. The NFL took four games’ worth of Bell’s salary.
It’s not surprising that concurrent with the revelation of the suspension was also the news that Bell and the Steelers had appealed the punishment, because even if it may be technically an appropriate level of discipline as it is written down on paper, it does have the feeling of incongruity when considering the punishment fitting the crime.
It also has a tinge of precedent-making and scapegoating. The league is still trying to overcome its public relations nightmare in terms of how it handles the internal policing of its employees, and handing this punishment down to Bell and presenting it to the world is the NFL showing that it has made good on its word to come down harder.
But I have a hard time believing that the punishment will stand as is. Though I have nothing in the affirmative to base my hunch on, I do think the suspension will be reduced to two games, even if he is still docked an extra game check or two.
Part of the issue, I believe, is that Bell’s infraction came back in August, long before there was ever any incident stemming from the infamous elevator footage in the Rice suspension that prompted the league to change its personal conduct policy.
In other words, Bell’s actions were committed under a different set of disciplinary consequences than the one that he is being with now. And even though the league made clear that prior offenses would be subject to the new discipline, I have a feeling that the Players Association will take issue with the severity of the punishment for a first-time offender who is otherwise a fine ambassador for the league.