Chad Kelly didn’t have the perfect start to his college football career. Just 44 days before he enrolled at Ole Miss, police arrested Kelly in Buffalo, N.Y., in December 2014.
According to reports from The Buffalo News, security personnel threw Kelly and a few friends out of a bar. Kelly reportedly punched a bouncer in the face and then told another that he would go “to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place.” To make matters worse, Kelly threw punches at police officers and resisted arrest.
For his actions, Buffalo police charged Kelly with a variety of misdemeanors, including third-degree assault, second-degree harassment and resisting arrest. He signed a plea deal to a non-criminal disorderly conduct charge and had to complete 50 hours of community service.
It was the first step in what at times was a troubled career at Ole Miss. He charged the field seemingly to confront a high school player while watching his brother play in New York. There was also an incident in which he was seen on Snapchat with marijuana, per the The Clarion-Ledger.
NFL teams will weigh Kelly’s off-field issues when they consider him in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But rather than allow Kelly to go through the process and let teams decide for themselves, the NFL used a new rule to bar him from the NFL Combine.
New Combine rule
The rule in question is purposefully vague. It includes both felony and misdemeanor convictions and mentions convictions “involving violence,” per Pro Football Talk. The NFL also barred former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (misdemeanor assault) and Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora (misdemeanor animal abuse) from the Combine.
Those incidents were disgraceful and would figure into any hiring process. The issue is not vetting these players, but rather the vagueness and application of the rule itself.
Mixon was arguably the catalyst for the rule. Critics around the nation panned Oklahoma after a video of Mixon punching a female student became public. Per The Oklahoman, Mixon entered an “Alford Plea,” which allows the court to punish him without admitting guilt.
The NFL treats cases differently. According to police, defensive end Devonte Fields pointed a gun at an former girlfriend and punching her in the head in 2015. For the transgressions, TCU removed Fields from its roster. Fields reached a deal with prosecutors to drop the charges in exchange for anger management classes.
Fields, also a 2017 draft prospect, played at Louisville last season. And despite his transgression, the NFL invited Fields to the Combine.
There is little logic or reason to the application of this rule. Kelly pleaded guilty to a non-criminal, nonviolent charge. Mixon’s plea deal kept the misdemeanor assault charge off his record. The NFL barred both players. However, Fields’ actions, which were more heinous than Kelly’s, did not keep him from the Combine.
Is being charged with a violent crime the line? If so, Fields should be barred. Does it take a violent crime conviction? Kelly should be allowed at the Combine, because his conviction was not for a violent crime. That doesn’t even count cases like Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson, who dealt with a gun charge during the 2016 offseason.
More likely, the NFL will evaluate these case by case. However, that’s a level of power the NFL has shown little ability to handle. The league constantly and blatantly takes public relations stances without any regard to its rules. Just look at Ray Rice. NFL teams blackballed him after a video showed Rice hitting his fiancee. To the contrary, Greg Hardy — whose crimes were more consistent and egregious — easily signed with the Dallas Cowboys after being cast off by the Carolina Panthers.
Any subjective evaluation of the situations should have seen Fields’ off-field issues as problematic.
Kelly, Mixon and Zamora will all end up on NFL rosters next season. The NFL chooses to grandstand instead of influence change. This is the equivalent to preventing a candidate from a job interview, but still hiring him for the position.
If there are crimes and players that don’t belong in the NFL, then the league must create rules to make that clear. This system simply prays the public will forget the issues.
The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine begins Feb. 28 and runs through March 7 in Indianapolis. The 2017 NFL Draft is April 27-29 in Philadelphia.