Over the past few years the issue of discipline for players, coaches, and general managers in the NFL has come into question.  From allegedly tampering with footballs, to covering up domestic violence and drug violations, to illegal hits during a game, nothing seems to have a set consequence.

The league holds that it is a role model for the children in society who look up to athletes, calling for heavy regulations involving on-field behavior. However, this doesn’t address penalties for off-field behavior. This is where the NFL’s discipline and accountability comes into play.

In meetings with the NFL commissioner over the past few weeks, restrictions against on- and off-field behavior and touchdown celebrations were discussed. The NFL believes that it is inappropriate to demonstrate to non-professional athletes that it is acceptable to celebrate a scored touchdown in light of its unsportsmanlike conduct. However ironic though it may be, actions such domestic violence and drug abuse, each demonstrating an even worse message, are less regulated.

The NFL claims to care for the image portrayed to society, yet little action is taken on violations that hold much more consequence than a celebratory dance. The consequences that do happen are disproportional to the act committed.

An example of the lenient punishment of NFL players is that of Josh Brown, the 37-year-old kicker for the New York Giants. Brown recently admitted to domestic violence toward his wife, who claimed Brown had been physically violent toward her on at least 20 occasions.

Upon Brown’s public criticism, the NFL suspended Brown for one game. This decision, condemned by the public, was compared to other domestic abuse situations of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. After the backlash about the punishment for Josh Brown, the NFL stepped up and put Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list which will all but put an end to his professional career.

In commercials broadcast after the Ray Rice video had surfaced a few years ago, players in the NFL talked about the importance of stopping domestic violence and any tolerance of the act. The players and the League felt that it started with them, but violent actions continue. In Brown’s specific case, the NFL is now taking action, but it is unclear whether it is because the NFL is trying to uphold its image, or actually provide a role model. The heavier punishment coming as an afterthought to such a light one points toward the former.

Last year, the public saw Tom Brady appeal a four-game suspension for allegedly tampering with footballs. After a lengthy appeals process on Brady’s suspension, the NFL won its appeal and got the four-game suspension put back in place.

Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers was given a four-game suspension for breaking the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) policy. While an appeal reduced his sentence to three games, both Bell and Brady were initially given the same punishment.

Vontaze Burfict, who has been a repeat offender for illegal hits during games, has been fined a combined 9 times over his career for such acts. Recently though, Burfict was suspended for the first time on account of these actions for three games for the start of the current season. However, Burfict’s punishment did not appear to have much of an effect on his actions as he was fined again two weeks after returning from his suspension.

For players like this, harder punishment needs to be enforced so that these acts aren’t repeated, but it seems as though the NFL just takes it case by case, player by player.  They don’t have consistent guidelines to punish each violation.

The biggest concern on this matter is what the NFL’s agenda really is.  The league claims it wants to protect the integrity of the game and create a worthy organizational role model by punishing players who cheat and try to downgrade the league. However, the NFL struggles with truly holding players accountable to actually teach the players a lesson, rather than just upholding its own image.

Holding players fully accountable for their actions on and off the field is key to gaining the credibility and image the NFL seeks.The League needs to stay consistent and active in its pursuit representing not just the best players, but also the best people on and off the field. That is how to hold up the integrity of the game.