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Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Ultimately, NFL threw up its hands at Favre

By Kevin Seifert

Alleged attempted adultery is not a violation of NFL policy.

Even elite forensic technology can't tell us who pressed the "send" button on a cell phone.

In terms of legal defense, stonewalling almost always trumps full disclosure.

Those are the three conclusions I drew from the merciful end to the NFL's two-month investigation into whether Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre violated league policy in allegedly pursuing former New York Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger. Ultimately, the league said it could find no evidence that Favre sent what it termed "objectionable photographs" to Sterger. Favre was fined $50,000 for a lack of cooperation when interviewed by league security, but that strategy clearly served him well in terms of league discipline.

On the first point, the league made clear it didn't care if Favre pursued a personal relationship with Sterger. Excerpting from the league statement: "[T]he sole focus was on whether there was a violation of league policies regarding conduct in the workplace. NFL policies do not extend to private conduct or make judgments about the appropriateness of personal relationships, except where that conduct or those relationships raise issues under the law or league policies."

Nor should they. The NFL, like any business, is an employer and should steer clear of policing morality at all costs.

On the other hand, every employee has a right to be protected from sexual harassment in the workplace. I think we can all agree that receiving inappropriate photographs via cell phone would qualify. But to address the second point, the NFL apparently had no technological tool at its disposal to prove definitively that it was Favre who sent the photographs.

Even if the originating phone number could be identified, the only way to know who actually sent it is a verbal admission. Favre obviously wasn't going to help the NFL implicate him by admitting to something it couldn't otherwise prove.

The way the NFL explained it, Favre's answers left commissioner Roger Goodell with too many question marks to merit discipline on the allegations. The most Goodell could do was issue a fine because Favre was, according to the statement, "not candid in several respects during the investigation, resulting in a longer review and additional negative public attention for Favre, Sterger, and the NFL."

We live in a culture that encourages open discussion of celebrity lives, and so I'm guessing each of you has rendered your own judgment of what Favre might or might not have done in this situation. Favre might feel vindicated that the NFL couldn't make the accusations stick from a discipline standpoint, but it won't make them dissipate from the public consciousness.

But frankly, I don't care what we might or might not have learned about Favre as a human being from this episode. From the beginning, this was not so much about whether Favre sent the photographs. Like it or not, in 2010, people draw their own conclusions long before they get any official word about the authenticity or validity of information.

To me, this was all about what would happen after the photographs emerged. After two months of investigation, the NFL has spoken. Its answer: Not much.