published Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Greeson: NFL returns after tumultuous offseason

The NFL starts tonight, and the season can't get here soon enough.

The league is the biggest venture in American sports and the biggest monolith in American pop culture, considering better than 80 percent of the top-20 watched shows last fall were NFL-related.

Still, the game needs to get back to the game so that the questions that have followed through a troubled offseason can fade into the background and the league's uneven and duplicitous dealings will be booted when toe meets leather.

Consider the recent potential controversies:

Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft, was released by the Rams and signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday. Sure, Sam had a better-than-expected preseason, but know that the Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that controls and collects their merchandise sales -- a deal brilliantly negotiated by Jerry Jones 25 years ago.

So Sam, who ranked in the top 10 in jersey sales among all NFL players since being a seventh-round pick, now becomes the most profitable practice squad player ever regardless where he celebrates after the game or whether he gets on the field.

We all know the various views of the drug issues that have plagued the league and rightly or wrongly, those punishments have been collectively bargained and are set with guidelines and structure.

We all know of the rage that festered after the decsion to suspend Ray Rice for two games after he was involved in assault charges against his future wife. It was a decision that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has since said he completely flubbed and has addressed with harsher rules and punishments.

It was Goodell at his egomaniacal worst and his business-man best.

That said, how is Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's punishment from the NFL be anything but confusing?

Irsay was pulled over with almost $30,000 in cash and more than 100 prescription pills and was picked up on four potential felonies last spring. He plead this week to a misdemeanor DWI and the league handed Irsay a six-game suspension and fined him $500,000.

Say what you will about the state of a legal system in which as many as four felony charges were dismissed because Irsay had a prescription for the hundreds of pills in his possession and the almost $30,000 in the back seat was there at 2 a.m. because, well, whatever.

The league fined Irsay $500,000, which is the most the league can fine an owner according to its by-laws. It's also way out-dated and laughable considering it is roughly 1/3,400 of Irsay's reported $1.7 billion net worth and likely will be made up with one weekend of work during the Colts season.

Granted, a lot of the penalties across the NFL are outlined in by-lays -- the league can fine owners no more than $500,000 -- and collective bargaining agreements with the players -- like the ones that set the penalties for Wes Welker and Josh Gordon.

So, multiple offender Gordon losses a years pay. Multiple offender Irsay losses six weeks and likely less than a Sunday check.

Which brings us to the case of Mr. Welker, who tested positive for amphetamines after the Kentucky Derby in May.

Insert your 'possession' receiver joke here and know that the league's drug policy viewed Welker's positive test as a performance-enhancement drug meaning that he got a four-game suspension.

So Irsay has 100-plus pills and gets six games; Welker gets four for a first offense. Hmmmmm.

And let's add this point and serious question about the state of the NFL:

What does it tell us that Welker got a four-game suspension for popping some pill at the Kentucky Derby, but he was going to get to ignore his third-concussion in 10 months and stroll on to the field for the opener?

It means the league is more worried about appearances than safety. The only part of safety the league is concerned with is the appearance of safety and the legal deniability when it comes to nine- and 10-figure lawsuits in the future.

The games can't get here soon enough for an $8 billion league that has handled its PR like a Mom and Pop operation.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp. Listen to Jay and David Paschall on Press Row every weekday from 3-6 on ESPN 105.1 FM and timesfreepress.com.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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