The Domino Effect

Political pundits often claim that you can't legislate morality.

They obviously don't know Roger Goodell.

Amidst a series of allegations, convictions and prison sentences for current players, the NFL Commissioner has taken a definitive stance for a strict standard of personal conduct, in what was widely considered to be a league on the slippery slope to thuggery.

Guns, assault, drugs, rape, and murder... we've pretty much seen it all.

As evidenced in the recent Ben Roethlisberger scandals, (which haven't resulted in any legal prosecution) Goodell maintains that his employees must adhere to an "above board" code of conduct. It's one that relies more on the court of public opinion than the court of law.

At some point in life, an appreciation for morality and character can't be taught. You either have a standard of living according to a set of values, or you find one enforced upon you.

So why is it that we find so many college and professional athletes having a morality, not of their own choosing, enforced upon them?

I think it's for the same reason Americans don't appreciate soccer. We don't see it enough for it to have any impact. Of course, many of us played when we were little, but we're rarely exposed to it the way the rest of the world is. We don't experience it on a regular basis.

I played soccer, but I never saw it done right. I never observed the game the way it was intended to be played. Naturally, it was difficult for me to understand its inherent value.

It's harder to appreciate things in life that we've never experienced. If I've never witnessed elite soccer, never been trained to play at a high level, it makes it difficult to value the sport. Had I seen Pele or Mia Hamm play up close and personal, I doubt I'd lack an affinity for the game. Even just watching soccer with someone like that would surely open my eyes to intricacies of the game that I would never have noticed otherwise.

My guess is that our lack of appreciation for soccer isn't as much about the game of soccer as it is about the state of our culture.

More and more noticeably, young athletes are coming from dysfunctional environments where they aren't exposed to examples of decent human behavior.

We were shocked to hear about Miami Dolphins General Manager, Jeff Ireland, asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. Though the question was offensive, I at least understand the general concern about the influences in his life. Bryant's mom was arrested for possessing and selling cocaine in 2009. No wonder the kid has some issues.

Certainly, this is no new phenomenon. I'm not saying my generation is any more inherently immoral than the one before us. I do, however, wonder about the repercussions of desensitization.

Every day, we hear about the "indiscretions" of various political and religious leaders, artists, coaches, teachers and parents on the news. We've even dedicated entire television shows and websites to examining the poor choices of celebrities.

Combine the extensive exposure to immorality with the lack of exposure to adults with integrity and you get a generation of young people indifferent to what was once considered common decency and civility. Not to mention, there are many adults willing to excuse or overlook the character flaws of young future superstars who may bring them along for the ride.

Roger Goodell apparently recognizes the need to ensure that this lack of understanding doesn't lead to the demise of America's most popular sport. Whether intentionally or not, his decision to impose a standard of personal conduct, though unappreciated by the uninitiated, will have an indelible impact on college football.

It's all about the trickle down effect.

The concept may be debatable in economics, but it sure works in football.

When I talk to high school seniors and college freshmen about why they chose their respective schools, I almost always hear that they felt the program gave them the best opportunity to make it to the NFL.

Oklahoma Sooners Head Coach Bob Stoops continues to recruit top players, despite criticism that he can't win big games. Take one look at the first round of the NFL Draft this year and you'll understand why.

If NFL teams start to pass on players because of potential character issues, which would cause them to garner fines and suspensions from Commissioner Goodell, college coaches would be forced to adjust their recruiting practices.

It wouldn't be worthwhile to take a big name, big trouble kid with the hopes that he'll be a first round pick, and therefore bring in more recruits who want to do the same.

In an ever-changing society where character is exposed in the form of pictures, videos or blogs from observant strangers, talent is no longer enough to sustain success.

No one player is too big to fail.

Some things are irreparable. We can't go back and give kids better parents and make them turn off the TV. We can't expose adults to the influences they should have had as children and expect their appreciation for integrity to magically appear.

If the powers that be in the NFL require that everyone abide by a strict standard of behavioral guidelines, regardless of talent or capacity to increase revenue, college football will naturally follow suit.

Coaches will have an extrinsic motivation to recruit kids that appreciate the value of team, accountability and discipline.

In order to be effective, it has to start from the top. A few college programs going against the grain won't cut it.

The NFL has to go first.