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Starkey: NFL justice a joke

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a strong message to players Wednesday: It's OK to get in a fight at a strip club as long as it's your first offense under the make-it-up-as-we-go-along personal-conduct policy.

Apparently, it's not that big a deal to drive drunk multiple times, either, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young had to be jumping for joy when news broke that he would not be suspended for his dust-up at Club Onyx, an "upscale urban gentleman's club" in Dallas. There was nothing gentlemanly about Vinny's behavior that mid-June night. He was caught on video assaulting a man who had used a hand gesture to insult Young's alma mater.

After executing a flawless swim move on a woman seated behind an office door, a raging Young went for the sack. He swung at his insulter. They proceeded to lock horns, you could say, before Young was held back from possibly inflicting serious damage.

Under normal circumstances, I'm not sure I would have issued a suspension, either, but the NFL hardly is operating under normal circumstances these days. Goodell has turned his league into a police state.

Part of the time, anyway.

Other times, anything goes.

Three years ago, players gave Goodell the freedom to act as judge, jury and executioner in administering the personal-conduct policy. Unfortunately, he has abused his power, dispensing punishments as erratically as Jake Delhomme delivers passes.

Consider the wild inconsistency in Goodell's dealings with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable.

Roethlisberger twice was accused of sexual assault within a year. He was not arrested, let alone charged with a crime, though a civil suit out of Nevada remains unresolved. Goodell hit Roethlisberger with a conditional six-game suspension for a "pattern of behavior" and "bad judgments," which apparently included furnishing alcohol to minors.

What about Cable• How did he avoid a suspension despite exhibiting a "pattern of behavior" at least as disturbing as Roethlisberger's?

Four people have accused Cable of inflicting violence upon them, though, like Roethlisberger, he was never prosecuted.

ESPN reported last year that Cable's ex-wife and ex-girlfriend each said he hit them. The report uncovered divorce documents in which a third woman, Cable's second-wife, said "in the past he has been physically and verbally abusive to me."

Finally, assistant coach Randy Hanson accused Cable of breaking his jaw in an unprovoked training-camp attack last summer.

Anyone detecting a pattern here?

Other assistant coaches present for the incident did not corroborate Hanson's story, thus helping their boss avoid prosecution.

Which raises a question: Should be players and coaches be treated differently under the personal-conduct policy?

According to Goodell's wicky-wacky code, the answer is yes — and it is coaches who should be held to a higher standard.

Yeah, I'm confused, too, but bear with me while we read Goodell's latest punishment letter, delivered Friday after he suspended Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand — a first-time offender — for 30 days on account of a DUI.

Wrote Roger: "Those who occupy leadership positions are held to a higher standard of conduct that exceeds what is ordinarily expected of players or members of the general public."

I believe coaching, too, would be considered a leadership position, but let's get back to the DUI dilemma.

Drunken driving, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune report, is the most common crime committed by NFL players. A player has been arrested for DUI more than once a month, on average, since 2000.

The situation prompted the league to join Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a partnership, one that is not to be confused with the NFL's $1.2 billion deal with Anheuser-Busch.

Anyway, when then-Cleveland Browns receiver Donte Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter after a crash in which he struck and killed a man, Goodell suspended him for the 2009 season (Stallworth now plays for the Baltimore Ravens).

That contrasted markedly to Goodell's handling of star defensive end Jared Allen, who was issued a four-game suspension in 2007 after a third DUI charge (anyone detecting a pattern there?). Goodell reduced the suspension to two games in July of 2007, three months after the personal-conduct policy was instituted.

Meanwhile, Goodell recently announced that San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, coming off a second DUI conviction, will be suspended for a measly three games.

Call me crazy, but shouldn't the NFL's punishment for DUI be based on what you do before you get behind the wheel and not what happens after?

If you drink and drive, you're liable to kill somebody. Period. What happens before you turn the ignition is controllable; what happens afterward is random. The punishment for a DUI — even a first one — should be a one-year suspension.

Yeah, a standard policy.

Imagine.

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