NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appears ready to go medieval next week. Well, at least in the realm of modern sports.
League spokesman Greg Aiello said that Goodell is expected to announce a stricter personal conduct policy for the league on Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix.
And that's just the beginning of the league's new tough love stance.
Two sources confirmed a report by Sports Illustrated that Goodell is also expected to ban Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for a minimum of one year. Even more, Goodell and the league are expected to get the full support of the NFL Players Association, making it difficult for individual players such as Jones to stop such penalties short of a lengthy court battle.
"The commissioner is not fooling around and I'm happy to hear it," said one owner, who asked not to be identified. "We sit around and talk about taking a stand every year, but it can't be done by the individual teams.
"There's too much competition. As soon as one team takes one of these guys, the next coach says, ‘Well, we have to take one of them, too.' … The rules have to come from the leagues so we can all live by them. We can't police ourselves. That never works."
Until now, even the NFL has been hesitant to really get tough. Under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the NFL took a passive approach to handling problem players. The league would often wait for the judicial system to play out, accepting lag times that would draw into months.
The league's conduct policy was based on convictions for crimes, meaning that the various forms of plea bargains and reduced charges would blur possible penalties. That was the preferred approach by Tagliabue, a lawyer before he ran the league.
However, Goodell seems to be borrowing more from a different commissioner for guidance. In 1920, Kennesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. Landis' first serious act was to ban all the players from the Black Sox scandal, a group of players who threw the 1919 World Series. The incident threatened to undermine the integrity of the game.
Likewise, the NFL is dealing with a public relations headache that some people believe is threatening the game both externally and internally.
"It's making us all look bad," Atlanta Falcons cornerback D'Angelo Hall said in February after Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw led a summit. The meeting included players, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
Atlanta President Rich McKay said that such a change would be welcome.
"We're all concerned with the things that go on off the field and how the actions of a few may affect the many. And [we] don't like that," McKay said. "So I do expect something. What it will be, I really don't know. I'm going to be very interested to hear. I know there were a number of really good exchanges in Indianapolis between the players, the union and the commissioner."
Before the February summit, Goodell, Upshaw and others addressed player conduct during the days leading up to the Super Bowl in Miami. That discussion was fueled by nine arrests of Cincinnati players in a nine-month stretch, the shooting death of Denver cornerback Darrent Williams after a New Year's Eve party and numerous other events.
Since then, Jones has become the poster child for players gone wild. His rap sheet features a litany of arrests, outbursts and a strong implication that he frequently uses marijuana.
Jones topped all of that in February.
He was involved in an incident that resulted in the shooting of three people in Las Vegas after the NBA All-Star Game. Exactly what happened leading up to the shootings is unclear, but there were various accounts and reports of Jones being robbed; Jones hitting a stripper; and a member of his entourage firing a gun in the strip club where the madness took place, leaving one of the victims paralyzed.
In the aftermath, it has been uncovered that Jones was involved in two other incidents that the Titans and the league were unaware of and, according to police surveillance recordings, he's an acquaintance of a known drug dealer.
"And that guy was a top pick," the aforementioned unnamed owner said of the No. 6 overall pick in the 2005 draft. "You see what I mean? The guy is good, so we ignore it … Yeah, I get how the coaches think. They think they're going to be the one who can get through to the guy, that they have the power to control them.
"They're managers of people, of course they're going to think that way. They're really confident in it. But I've seen it in business, too. The reality is that talented people have to get it out of themselves. A manager can't change the basic person."
After last season, Cincinnati owner Mike Brown told Lewis that he wanted nothing more to do with troubled players. It's not the first time an owner has made such a mandate.
In 2000, Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga said he'd had enough of problem players after rookie running back Cecil Collins was arrested and subsequently convicted of burglary charges and rookie defensive end Dimitrius Underwood tried to take his life. Both Collins and Underwood had lengthy histories of problems.
Despite Huizenga's decry, the Dolphins eventually took on other problem players. Among the players red-flagged for character issues was 2005 rookie free agent Abram Elam, who transferred from Notre Dame after being convicted of sexual battery in 2003.
Ultimately, most teams will have at least a player or two who has "baggage," but the issue becomes how many problems are enough?
"Those guys can really kill you," Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said. "Yeah, you think they're going to be good, but then they're just not focused. It's like you spend more time trying to get those guys under control than you do getting ready for a game."
For every Ray Lewis, who helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl less than a year after standing trial for his involvement in a double-homicide in Atlanta, there is a Rae Carruth, the former Carolina wide receiver who arranged the murder of the mother of his daughter.
Meanwhile, Tagliabue talked big at times and tacitly approved of bad behavior at other times. In 1999, Tagliabue publicly talked about how former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor should not be penalized when being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tagliabue made that speech the day before Taylor was voted into the Hall of Fame, putting pressure on electors to ignore Taylor's history of drug abuse and other off-field issues.
Tagliabue also had the league formulate a conduct policy that allowed for a maximum of only a four-game suspension from the league and other limitations on teams in dealing with players.
Clearly, the policy has done little to curb bad behavior, as the Jones case and other recent developments have proved.
So now comes the time for Goodell to go back in time to a period when a commissioner had to take stronger measures.
- Paul Tagliabue