The case of James Saxon proves that PR promotes private conduct politics

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On Monday, Judge Sue L. Robinson accused the NFL of overreacting to public opinion in administering the personal conduct policy. She failed to understand that public opinion determines all politics.

The policy exists as a mechanism to enable the league to take action against players and others who experience problems while away from work. For most employers, off-duty behavior is not the employer’s concern. However, the NFL has become concerned about such issues as the public expects action to be taken against those who might squander the “privilege” of being associated with The Shield and get into trouble when not operating under their auspices.

However, the personal conduct policy provides some balance to the league’s PR. It’s one thing to act when the off-field situation has been widely covered, discussed and scrutinized, e.g. Deshaun Watson the case. When someone gets in trouble and the media doesn’t pick up on it, the league has to choose whether to act — so not make a story a story — or let sleeping dogs lie.

A great example of this dynamic is the NFL’s treatment of Cardinals running backs coach James Saxon. It was first reported Friday that he was arrested in May on a domestic battery charge. Following the announcement, the Cardinals are placing Saxon on paid administrative leave at the recommendation of the league.

This timeline has led many to conclude that either Saxon didn’t tell the Cardinals about the situation or the Cardinals didn’t tell the league. This is not the case; As coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters on Friday, the team knew about the arrest when it happened, and the team notified the league at that time.

The league, for one team, did not recommend administrative leave until today, after the report came out.

The implication is obvious. The league didn’t want to make history out of Saxon’s arrest when there wasn’t one. Had he been placed on administrative leave at that time, someone would have asked, “Hey, where’s Coach Saxon?” Deliberately waiting, no one knew. This prevented the league from dealing with the negative story of a coach charged with domestic battery.

The league’s decision not to take action until it’s necessary is kind of hypocritical. The NFL will discipline employees and teams that do not promptly report incidents. However, the NFL reserves the right to withhold such incidents from the public if they are not otherwise known. Then, when someone reports the problem, the league will do what it should have done but didn’t want to do because it wanted no one to know about the arrest.

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