Jerry Jones and marijuana: the NFL has a PR problem

By Louise Carhart

carhartl17@grinnell.edu

In the wake of multiple scandals involving National Football League (NFL) players concerning domestic violence, drug use and murder, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pushed for relaxation of league rules. At a recent owners-only meeting, Jones proposed that the League end punishments for players that test positive for marijuana, while also stepping back from investigating off-field incidents.

The NFL is known for player protection, even when faced with legal pressure. In the case of the New England Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez, head coach Bill Belichick expressed his support for Hernandez as he was under investigation for, and eventually convicted of, a double murder in 2012. The Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice was originally handed a two-game suspension for a domestic abuse incident involving his now-wife Janay Rice. While this was eventually overturned, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the suspension in a press conference where he expressed that he believed the punishment fit the crime. These instances are two high profile examples in recent years of an epidemic of harboring and supporting criminals.

Jones, who has owned the Cowboys since 1989, is notorious for raising eyebrows and pursuing success at all costs. He has been criticized for making himself the face of the team and outspending all other teams in the NFL. His proposal to ease testing for marijuana comes at a time when four of his own team members are facing punishment for testing positive for the drug. His move to abolish testing is clearly advantageous to the Cowboys and gives Jones a better chance to begin the 2017 season with a full roster. This is good motivation, but the change would not be able to take place unless agreed upon by the owners, the NFL and the Players’ Union.

While ending marijuana testing may reflect the current changes in policy across the country, the true issue behind Jones’ suggestions is the roll back of NFL investigations. The NFL has suffered bad press for years. It has been unable to both stop crime from becoming common and adequately punish perpetrators. Ending NFL investigation into off-field incidents would only serve to plunge the League into a deeper hole, causing it to lose legitimacy with certain demographics.

There are those who believe that the NFL should not interfere with the personal conduct of their players, especially when events play themselves out off the field. The argument that claims regulation and investigation of off-field activities cross privacy lines does not consider the hold the NFL has over the American, and international, public. Football remains the most popular sport in the United States, with the Super Bowl drawing huge numbers of viewers. Just as the NFL uses pop stars like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to present themselves as in touch, they must also consider how they present themselves in terms of criminal tolerance. Jerry Jones does not speak for the entire League, but his actions are indicative of a prevailing culture. The 2017 season will start in September and Jerry Jones will still own the Cowboys, but that does not mean the League must accept business as usual.