Drawing the Fine Line between Image and Reality

Mike Miller comments on the recent news that the Carolina Panthers fined Running Back and Special Teamer Rod Smart for missing practice on Monday. His excuse... Hurricane Jeanne. Were the Panthers over the line?

It was reported today that Rod Smart, AKA "He Hate Me" from his XFL days, of the Carolina Panthers was fined for missing practice due to being stuck down in his home in Lakeland, Florida because of hurricane Jeanne. Terms were not disclosed but Smart didn't find out about the fine until after he was home. Smart was fined even after speaking on the phone with Coach John Fox, explaining why he wouldn't be able to make it back to Charlotte.

Smart was attempting to return to the Carolinas but found that he couldn't catch a flight out of the Tampa airport. Even though Smart's reason was a legitimate excuse for missing practice, the Panthers still followed party lines and fined one of their players. This leads to the question: At what point is fining a player taking things over the line and at what point do you let the players be people and not worry so much about the NFL corporate image?

Last year, there was a rash of fines being handed out in the NFL for a variety of reasons. Players were fined for not having the right color shoes on. Players were fined for having the wrong type of hat on in the locker room during a post game interview. Players were even fined for holding up a sign asking the NFL not to fine them anymore for what they do in the end zone after they scored a touchdown. Has the NFL gotten to the point where acts of mild individuality make them act petty? Or are they afraid that if they don't set a standard that has to apply to all players, no matter how small the infraction, that there would be total chaos?

Along with the minor infractions were some more notable ones. Terrell Owens, then of the San Francisco 49ers, pulled a Sharpie pen out of his sock and signed a football for his agent, who happened to be sitting in the stands where the touchdown occurred. Joe Horn, of the New Orleans Saints, was fined after he scored a touchdown and pulled out a pre-placed cell phone from the base of the field goal and mimicked calling someone. Only in the end, it was the NFL that gave Horn a huge fine and asked, "Can you hear me now?"

I can understand how the NFL wants to protect its image. There have been way too many off field incidents involving players with drugs, violence, drunken driving and other behavior that gives the NFL a bad name. How many times have you heard of a player being busted for drugs, beating up their wife or girlfriend or wrecking their car because they had twice as much alcohol in their system than the legal system allows? For those instances, I can completely understand fining the heck out of the players. Hit ‘em where it hurts. But to take the same rule to the extreme and to fine someone for something that's beyond their control is crossing the line. I guess the Carolina Panthers have their standards to uphold, whatever they are. But what would have happened if Smart would have risked coming back to the Carolinas in a plane or an automobile and something terrible happened? How accountable would the Panthers organization be then?

There's a fine line between acting silly and making a fool of yourself and everyone you represent and it has to be tread upon lightly. But sometimes common sense needs to take precedent over corporate sense. For Rod Smart, I guess "He Hate Me" can be applied to the Panthers now as well.

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