- Associated Press - Thursday, September 23, 2010

The NFL season just started and with it came heartache and trouble, on and off the field: a player’s apparent suicide; drunken-driving charges against another; a drug suspension; Reggie Bush’s broken leg; a female reporter’s locker room plight; chaos at quarterback.

Stay tuned for Week 3.

From the death of Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley, found with a pillow over his head and a pistol on top of the pillow, to the DWI charges against Jets receiver Braylon Edwards to Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson being suspended for at least a year, the headlines have skewed toward the negative. Even the tragic.

“In a perfect world, all of our news would be positive and focused on the game,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday. “Of course we do not live in a perfect world and commissioner (Roger) Goodell makes sure we address all of these issues in an open and responsible way.

“We know that people are paying close attention to what we do and with that comes the responsibility of leadership and setting the right example.”

Goodell's league has seen far too much irresponsible behavior dominating the news. Sure, the commissioner was impressed enough by Ben Roethlisberger’s conduct since April that he reduced the Pittsburgh quarterback’s suspension from six games to four. But more common have been suspensions for violations of the performance-enhancing-drug policy (Texans tackle Duane Brown, who joined Houston linebacker Brian Cushing, last season’s defensive rookie of the year, on the sideline); personal conduct program (Bucs DB Aqib Talib); and substance abuse policy (Seahawks LB Leroy Hill).

Talib and Hill even attended their team’s game in violation of league rules and could face further discipline.

On Wednesday, Jackson was suspended until next September after violating the drug policy for the second time; he served four games last year.

The league also is developing a workplace conduct program in the wake of a locker room incident in which the New York Jets acted unprofessionally toward a female television reporter from Mexico. Did the tabloids _ and tabloid television _ have a field day with that.

“It is getting harder to deflect attention,” said Syracuse University professor of pop culture Robert Thompson. “Hollywood in the 1930s and ‘40s could completely make stories go away. The NFL has been known for being to able to control its message, but with stories like these … it is very difficult to control those kinds of messages and even the information coming.

“A perfect example of that” is the Jets-TV Azteca reporter incident, he added.

The Jets don’t have the only locker room issues. Their co-owner of the New Meadowlands Stadium, the Giants, had safety Antrel Rolle _ in his first season with the team, by the way _ complained about, well, just about everything, including a lack of player leadership. That followed running back Brandon Jacobs griping about losing his starting job earlier in the season, then unintentionally tossing his helmet into the Indianapolis crowd on Sunday night, for which Jacobs was fined $10,000 by the league.

Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall believes he also should be Washington’s defensive coordinator; anybody wonder if he has designs on other jobs in DC, too, with the elections coming up in six weeks?

For all the tumult away from the field, there has been plenty of upheaval on it. Quarterback, the position coaches insist must be the most stable, is a mess in many cities, from Philadelphia to Charlotte to Oakland and back to Buffalo.

Already, eight teams have used backup quarterbacks in some manner, and the Bills are switching from Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday. Pittsburgh already has gone through its third-stringer and fourth-stringer and will start Charlie Batch at Tampa Bay. Leftwich was waived by the Steelers for Week 2, reclaimed on Monday.

But even if fans are paying attention to everything else, they also continue to tune into NFL telecasts, the most popular thing on the tube this time of year. Of course, anyone who prefers to focus on the negative will point out there already have been three TV blackouts (Tampa, San Diego, Oakland) when there were 20 all of last season.

There also have been 19 games decided by seven or fewer points, the most at this point in NFL history. Of the eight teams at 2-0, six did not make the playoffs last year: Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

“Yes, I think people do pay attention to those other elements and maybe it’s distracting us from watching the games in the total purity of sports,” Thompson said. “Yet, part of the fun of following a game or team or the NFL is for the close games, the stats, watching our favorite teams win and also for the drama, and sometimes we get the high drama the NFL is kicking off this season with.”