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Crime and punishment

Goodell to get tough on player conduct at meetings

Posted: Monday March 26, 2007 9:09AM; Updated: Monday March 26, 2007 10:55AM
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The negative publicity surrounding the Titans' Pacman Jones has become a black eye for the NFL.
The negative publicity surrounding the Titans' Pacman Jones has become a black eye for the NFL.
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There will be sexier stories than commissioner Roger Goodell tweaking the player-conduct policy at the annual NFL meetings here this week. Like the announcement this afternoon of the first two prime-time games of 2007 on NBC, including Eli Manning opening his second straight season on the first Sunday night game of the year, this time against Dallas. (My, how Tony Romo's star continues to rise.) Like Ron Jaworski replacing Joe Theismann as Monday Night Football analyst.

But when Goodell, a workout-aholic, walked into the gym at the Arizona Biltmore at 6 on Sunday morning, he heard right away what the tenor of the week would be.

Goodell walked over to say hello to Kansas City coach Herman Edwards, who was on the exercise bike, and before pleasantries could be exchanged, Edwards said to him: "Kick 'em out.'' Goodell smiled, knowing exactly what Edwards was talking about. The coach, like so many of his peers, wants the rookie commissioner to make a veteran decision and take a hard line with the repeat offenders who've given the NFL such a black eye in the past year.

"Everybody's behind you,'' Edwards said, not pausing his pedaling as Goodell listened. "If you need anyone to speak up on this, you can count on me. But we've got to get the game back to being the number one thing. Too many of these guys are abusing the privilege of playing in the league. And when you fine 'em, the fines mean nothing. You've got to take the game away from 'em.''

Goodell thanked Edwards and moved on. Fifteen minutes later, Edwards and Goodell were conversing again, having an animated discussion out of the earshot of the dawn patrol on the elliptical trainers and treadmills and bikes.

Later, I asked Edwards what the threshold should be. "Three strikes and you're out for a year, or two strikes?'' I said.

"Two,'' he said. "You make one mistake, hey, anybody can make a mistake. But you make two, and you're not respecting the privilege of playing in the National Football League. And you know what? It's not just us who want to see it changed. It's the players too. They figure, I don't want to have to rely on a guy who's messing up off the field.''

Those close to Goodell say he wants to hear the kind of input he got from Edwards as he considers what changes to make to the threshold, and that he continued to get such input as the day went on. Under the league's rules, it's the commissioner who has the authority -- without having to get it collectively bargained and without having to get a vote from club owners -- to alter the personal conduct policy.

When Goodell addresses coaches and owners on Tuesday, he's likely to stress three points:

1. He's going to change the policy, certainly to add more of what the league calls "year-round life skills'' training to make players more aware that their choices to drive drunk, scuffle in bars or carry weapons illegally will have bigger consequences than the current system of punishment in the league. The commissioner's office has suspended violators of the personal-conduct policy for one, two and four games, usually for serious violations of the policy. He will stress that he doesn't want the changes to be strictly punitive in nature. But it's obvious that all the stay-out-of-trouble seminars aren't going to deter some players from breaking the law.

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