Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Creeping Underwear, Drooping Pants, and the NFL Personal Conduct Policy during the Lockout

Dress codes often generate controversy. Consider the debate following the NBA adopting an off-court dress code 5 years ago. Dress codes attract critique because they normally limit attire choices to those considered mainstream, while disallowing dissenting styles, typically on grounds that unconventional attire can be "unprofessional" or "inappropriate." From time-to-time, dress codes have also been viewed as insensitive to various race, ethnic, gender, and religious concerns. Nonetheless, dress codes are usually legal, and that is true of those imposed by malls, which want to ensure a positive shopping experience for customers.

Would a rule that doesn't let a mall patron show his/her underwear be a rule that you support or find offensive? Count me in the support category.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant may not agree. He learned about such a rule this past weekend when he and three friends were kicked out of NorthPark Center, an upscale Dallas shopping mall.

Their mistake? Wearing "drooping pants", which apparently is another description of sagging pants, the effect of which is to expose one's underwear, a violation of the mall dress code. To compound Bryant's problem, he got into an argument with police officers who were working off-duty as security officers at the mall and was issued a criminal trespass warning:
According to the official police report, Bryant and three friends were stopped by the uniformed, off-duty officers working security shortly before 8 p.m. at the popular shopping center after they were observed "wearing their pants halfway down their hips exposing their underwear."

The police asked the men to pull their pants up.

"Mr. Bryant’s response to the request was profanity laced and [NorthPark] center representatives felt the outburst merited a request for Mr. Bryant to leave the premises," according to a Dallas police statement issued Tuesday evening.

"What the [expletive] are you stopping me, like I stole something," Bryant was quoted as saying by a News 8 source. "I'm not leaving until my attorney and my representative get here."

Police said Bryant continued cursing as the off-duty officers escorted him to his vehicle.

"Mr. Bryant entered his vehicle but parked in a fire lane still refusing to leave, necessitating a request for on-duty officers to respond to the location," the Dallas police statement said.

To read the Dallas Police Report, click here. Bryant, for his part, claims his pants were actually up and that he was respectful to the officers.

While the facts of the incident are in question, the incident is clearly embarrassing for Bryant and the Cowboys, and maybe the NFL, too. And under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, commissioner Roger Goodell can issue a sanction for any behavior that he deems detrimental to the league's image.

But is the league's personal conduct policy still in effect during the lockout? The league says yes and that it will assign penalties for misbehavior during the lockout after the lockout ends. The NFLPA has chosen not to opine on whether the policy is still in effect.

I'm not sure the league is right. During a lockout, a player is completely separated from his employment with the team and the league as a whole - and, unlike with a player strike, the only way for that separation to end is for the league to end the lockout. The player can sign with a team in another pro football league or take on some other employment; he's not getting paid any salary or receiving any benefits from his NFL team, so why should he be obligated to follow the NFL's personal conduct policy?