It had become an annual ritual for the NFL: beginning of a season with a major controversy over a question from  The 2015 season featured Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association, who argued in court over the quadruple suspension of the quarterback in the Deflategate saga. The 2016 season began when Brady suspended the first four games of the New England Patriots after losing his judicial battle following the NFL's victory on appeal. It took the first half of last season for the league to prevail in court and secure the right to enforce its suspension of six Dallas Cowboys games, which Ezekiel Elliott reverts to sport's personal behavioral policy.
As the 2018 season approaches, there was the potential for a repeat, with the League investigating Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston for an incident in Arizona in 2016 with an Uber driver.
But the NFL, for a change, has managed to solve a significant disciplinary case without players having a total confrontation in the courtroom. Winston will suspend a three-game suspension and will not appeal once a person familiar with the case has reached an agreement on his sentence.
The suspension was announced Thursday by the NFL, which said in a written statement that its investigation "had concluded that Winston violated the Personal Conduct Policy by inappropriately and sexually touching the driver without their consent and disciplinary action was necessary and appropriate. "
Winston is a prominent player, as a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida State and the top overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft. He had a well-documented history of off-field incidents while studying.
But this case has caused neither the public outcry nor the controversy that had the Brady and Elliott cases. And now that the league has avoided returning to federal court, there is a chance that the 2018 season could continue without a full public review of the merits of the NFL's player fairness system.
"This was in the best interest of all" A person who is familiar with the inner workings of the league said.
The NFLPA has said that it wants to make the authority of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the player discipline a negotiating issue in the deliberations on the next collective agreement of the sport. It's a problem that does not go away. But this time, a disciplinary sanction was lifted without the League and the union each wanting to prove a bigger point and ready to go to court.
The NFLPA fought what it is for the good fight in the Brady and Elliott challenging the NFL, which the union in any case considered a flawed and unfair disciplinary process. But in both cases, the union and the player managed to delay the inevitable. The league finally prevailed and forced the suspension of their election, and Goodell's authority in disciplinary affairs was strengthened.
But at what cost for the sport? Owners of NFL teams and league leaders have spent the last couple of years complaining about their inability to focus their fans on the product in the field. The courtroom maneuvering in the Brady and Elliott cases contributed to this.
These legal disputes were of course not the biggest contributions, at least not in the last season. The turbulent 2017 season included Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who unsuccessfully tried not to complete Goodell's contract extension. And it had a militant and highly divisive public debate about sports' national anthem policy after President Trump said last September that owners should fire any player protesting during the anthem.
Trump intensified the national controversy over the protests of the players and the NFL anthem policy to the point that the other problems faced by the league appear mostly insignificant. The owners felt they had to do something, and they changed the anthem policy at their meeting in Atlanta in May 1965.
"I know that our fans want us to focus on the game and set the football to zero "Jones said at this meeting. "They want to get to the game and get away from a lot of other issues that are out there … I'm trying to figure out how to think best when someone thinks of the NFL, they're thinking about who starts with the quarterback and who's going to get hot in the third quarter, we need to make sure that everything we decide here is focused on raising their thoughts on what's going on on the football field. "
It's not clear if the new one Hymn policy the owner will finish the players. Protests or curb the controversy. This policy says that every player in the field must stand for the anthem. It gives players the opportunity to stay in the locker room for the anthem if they choose. It is also said that if a player protests during the anthem, a team will be penalized by the League, but it will leave the individual team to decide whether to discipline a player for such a protest.
Can the NFL make it 2018 season over football? That remains to be seen. But the Winston resolution means there will be at least no litigation over a disciplinary case that goes into the early season equation.
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