You know the guy who throws the drink. He’s the guy who screams so loud bits of hot dog fly out of his mouth. The one who terrorizes his seat section like a soft Napoleon,with his outthrust Bonaparte chin, and a chest that’s started to landslide into a belly. When an NFL owner acts like the worst lout in an arena of 70,000, when he throws a drink on a ticket buyer like a feudal lord dousing a serf with a bucket of refuse from his castle, what should the penalty be?
In the case of the Carolina Panthers’ David Tepper, the answer is a fine that amounts to a frippery. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, unharried by conscience as usual, concluded that fit punishment for Tepper was $300,000, which comes to about 0.0015 percent of his $20 billion in wealth. This touches off all sorts of fun analytical games: Proportionally, it is the equivalent of about $15 — if your net worth is merely $1 million. The cost of three McDonald’s Happy Meals.
“I should have let NFL stadium security handle any issues that arose,” Tepper said in an utterly unrepentant statement after he was caught on camera hurling that iced drink toward a fan out the window of his luxury suite. “I respect the NFL’s code of conduct and accept the League’s discipline for my behavior.” Now, the only issue that stadium security needed to handle was Tepper. And proper action by the league would be to banish Tepper indefinitely from attending NFL games, just as regular fans have been banned from stadiums for throwing beers on players, and as a player, Marcus Peters, was once suspended by the Kansas City Chiefs for throwing a penalty flag at spectators in the stands.
You’d call this a double standard, except that it’s no standard at all. The Tepper incident captures the entire NFL landscape in one vicious little incident: Owners are a court of barons with divine rights. Where they are concerned, the NFL’s “personal conduct” policy is nothing but legend, spun around them to disguise the economic pillage they inflict on their players and their fans.
A significant part of Goodell’s regime, and his legacy, has been his steady expansion of the personal conduct policy, assigning the league ever greater authority and latitude in disciplining players. The personal conduct policy states that anyone who is part of the NFL in any way must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the league. Laughably, the policy even singles out owners as the torchbearers for virtuous behavior. “Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
Thus, when quarterback Deshaun Watson allegedly solicits sex acts from massage therapists, he is suspended for 11 games and sits out for nearly two years, and when Patriots owner Robert Kraft is charged with allegedly paying spa workers for sex acts at a joint called Orchids of Asia — charges that were later dropped — he is never disciplined.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara served a three-game suspension to start this season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy during a fight in Las Vegas. And yet it took years of alleged workplace abuses and multiple investigations — including congressional inquiry — for the NFL to be dragged into sanctioning former Washington owner Daniel Snyder.
This disproportion is not mere lordly arrogance emanating from the league office. It smacks of calculated strategy. As former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt has pointed out in Sports Illustrated, Goodell’s office has stealthily rewritten the personal conduct policy in a way that hands ever more leverage to management while undermining player rights. The most breathtaking example of this is a new clause that states the league can investigate and discipline a player for conduct that occurred before he was ever employed or even draft-eligible. What’s more, a player must “promptly disclose” any past misconduct to ownership before signing a contract, at peril of voiding it.
Speaking of pasts, here is Tepper’s. This was not his first offense, as far as throwing things. Apparently, the hedge funder used to toss breast implants around his office, and throw objects at his male employees to humiliate them, according to a 2010 profile in New York Magazine. He also mused that sometimes when he didn’t like his service from a waiter, he thought about buying the restaurant, just to fire somebody. And he kept a crude brass sculpture of testicles on his desk. This past was well known to the NFL when it approved his purchase of the Carolina franchise from that abiding harasser and racist, Jerry Richardson.
Tepper’s offense against a ticket buyer was met with a trivial fine, but the effect of it is not trivial at all. It has a pervasive effect, reminding players and fans of that age-old NFL ownership edict: “We’re the ranchers, you’re the cattle.”