Originally Published: September 5, 2008 7:20 p.m.
On the eve of the 2008 NFL season, Commissioner Roger Goodell, aka "Sheriff Goodell," unveiled a new "Fan Code of Conduct." The intent of the new Code, according to the preamble, is to allow "all fans attending our games to enjoy the experience in a responsible manner."Fans attending NFL games are now prohibited from engaging in the following conduct: Behavior that is unruly, disruptive, or illegal in nature. Intoxication or other signs of alcohol impairment that results in irresponsible behavior. Foul or abusive language or obscene gestures. Interference with the progress of the game (including throwing objects onto the field). Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel. Verbal or physical harassment of opposing team fans.The Code further states that fans "who violate these provisions will be subject to ejection without refund and loss of ticket privileges for future games." Season ticket holders are responsible for not only their own behavior, but also the behavior of anyone occupying their seats.Each of the 32 NFL teams will be responsible for notifying their fans of the Code and will designate an employee to be in charge of the new policy. And the league expects each team to enforce the Code. Good luck.The Code can't be defined, let alone enforced. What constitutes "unruly," "disruptive," or "irresponsible" behavior? One person's "foul ... language" is another's standard mode of communication. The late George Carlin would have been unwelcome in the "new" NFL. And if you can't verbally harass the opposing team's fans, where's the fun in being a football fan?If the policy is enforced, the NFL will be the first professional sports league to play an entire season in empty stadiums. That may be a slight exaggeration. But professional football fans - indeed, most sports fans today - adhere to an inalienable right to make fools of themselves during a sporting event. That's after consuming alcoholic beverages in sufficient quantities to kill most of their brain cells.So why would Goodell and the NFL institute a Code of Conduct? Because they had no choice, that's why. In April 2007, to great fanfare, Sheriff Goodell implemented a "Personal Conduct Policy" for all league employees, including players, coaches and team personnel. Then he proceeded to back it up. Just ask Pacman Jones and a passel of other players who were hauled before the Sheriff, who proceeded to act as judge, jury and executioner.When Goodell admitted at a league meeting in May that his office had been receiving an increased number of complaints from fans concerning their negative experiences at NFL games, the handwriting was on the wall. If league personnel should comport themselves in a civil manner, why should fans - even if they pay the bills - be exempt? Nothing short of Goodell's, and the NFL's, credibility is at stake.The Code of Conduct governs fan behavior from the time the parking lots open until they close after the game. Individual teams have announced a number of measures in an effort to comply with the league's new policy. Some teams have reduced the hours parking lots will be open. Others have announced increased security measures. And a number of stadium concessionaires have agreed to limit beer sales.All of which may help, but if the NFL is really intent on improving the game experience for fans, they can police alcohol consumption in the parking lots and eliminate beer sales during games entirely. OK, so that's not going to happen. Which means the Code of Conduct is merely a PR move by the NFL, a half-hearted effort designed to convince disgruntled fans that the league is listening to their complaints and doing something about them. Which tells you all you need to know about the "fan experience" at today's NFL games, and the level of complaints the league has been receiving.The bottom line is the NFL is attempting to govern common sense and courtesy, something other sports leagues have tried - unsuccessfully - to do before. Riding herd on league employees is one thing; legislating the conduct of fans, quite another. There's no reason to believe that the Code of Conduct will make NFL stadiums G-rated any time soon.(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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