NFL declines comment on Xavien Howard situation

Sport

Based on reports surfacing yesterday regarding a June 2020 shooting at the home of NFL agent Damarius Bilbo, there’s definitely some smoke when it comes to the potential involvement of Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. If the NFL has joined the authorities in the search for fire, the NFL isn’t saying so.

“We will decline comment,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a Sunday morning email to PFT regarding the situation.

Under the Personal Conduct Policy, the league has broad authority to investigate and to discipline players who have committed one or more types of off-field misbehavior. Obviously, potential involvement in a shooting falls within the conduct prohibited by the policy.

As the Miami Herald reported on Saturday night, Howard has declined to be interviewed by Georgia police investigating the incident. Unless and until he goes to Georgia (the Dolphins host the Falcons this year), the authorities there will have a hard time forcing an interview. Even if they manage to get Howard in a room, he can always invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

In contrast, the NFL has the power to compel Howard to appear and to talk, with discipline being the leverage to compel compliance. Consider this portion of the Personal Conduct Policy: “Because the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination does not apply in a workplace investigation, the league will reserve the right to compel a player to cooperate in its investigations even when he is the target of a pending law enforcement investigation or proceeding. A player’s refusal to speak to a league investigator under such circumstances will not preclude an investigation from proceeding or discipline from being imposed.”

Although the league isn’t commenting, this one seems like a no-brainer. The league should send an investigator to Florida, or require Howard to come to New York, for an interview. The league also should require Howard to direct his lawyers to produce any reports or other records received from Georgia police regarding the investigation, so that the league will have a more complete picture before talking to Howard.

There’s another interesting angle to this regarding notification to the league office. When, if ever, did Howard report the investigation to the Dolphins? When, if ever, did the Dolphins share that information with the league? Again, from the policy: “Clubs and players are obligated to promptly report any matter that comes to their attention (through, for example, victim or witness reports, law enforcement, civil litigation, or media reports) that may constitute a violation of this Policy. Clubs are expected to educate their employees on this obligation to report. . . . Failure to report an incident will be grounds for disciplinary action. This obligation to report is broader than simply reporting an arrest; it requires reporting to the league any incident that comes to the club’s or player’s attention which, if the allegations were true, would constitute a violation of the Policy.”

Wherever it goes from here, the incident report as enhanced by Saturday night’s reporting from the Herald makes it clear that the authorities in Georgia believe there’s a reason to talk to Howard about this unsolved shooting at the house of an NFL agent. There’s no reason for the NFL to look the other way, and every reason for the NFL to use its employment leverage over Howard to get him to talk.