Goodell gets tough on player conduct
NEW YORK – Roger Goodell calls it “the shield,” and he wears it proudly.He defended the NFL shield as powerfully as any commissioner can Tuesday by suspending Adam “Pacman” Jones for a season and Chris Henry for eight games, while also strengthening the league’s player conduct policy.Goodell has spent his adult life as an NFL employee, from a part-time helper to one of the most influential jobs in sports. He succeeded Paul Tagliabue last summer, and his actions Tuesday show he intends to meet the most difficult challenges head-on.”It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff,” Goodell said. “We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League. We have long had policies and programs designed to encourage responsible behavior, and this policy is a further step in ensuring that everyone who is part of the NFL meets that standard.”Far too many players weren’t coming close to that standard, embarrassing themselves and the league. So Goodell has been proactive from the outset, making himself available for consultations with players and team officials, even offering any help he could provide to the Cincinnati Bengals. Nine Bengals players were arrested in the past year. One of them, Odell Thurman, was suspended for all of last season.Tagliabue had a lawyer’s background and was wary to act before the legal process ran its course. Goodell already has been extremely assertive on the main issue of his early tenure. He pretty much explained why in the new conduct policy, which says:”Illegal or irresponsible conduct does more than simply tarnish the offender. It puts innocent people at risk, sullies the reputation of others involved in the game, and undermines public respect and support for the NFL.”While criminal activity is clearly outside the scope of permissible conduct, and persons who engage in criminal activity will be subject to discipline, the standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher. It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.”Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime.”While Goodell isn’t likely to be universally praised for his tough stand – lawyers could be lining up right now to sue the league – it’s a position he couldn’t avoid. And when he was encouraged by the NFL Players Association to get tough, well, he got very tough, although Jones can apply for reinstatement after 10 games next season.Goodell, who several times referred to “the shield” when mentioning the NFL at the league meetings last month, has consulted extensively with NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw. He also created a six-man player advisory committee to discuss conduct, discipline and other topics. Unlike Tagliabue, Goodell has had a visible presence among the players and coaches, which might be why so many of them supported his announcements Tuesday.”The message, I think, is that the league office is very, very serious about conduct in the league and that it’s important for us,” said Tony Dungy, coach of the Super Bowl champion Colts. “I think it’s a good message to send to everyone, not just the players but everyone around the team, and I don’t think it’s directed solely at our players, but also to our fans and what we’re concerned about.”Even Henry’s teammates in Cincinnati backed the get-tough approach. Not that they had much choice considering all those player arrests.”It should definitely make a difference,” Bengals safety Madieu Williams said “Obviously over the past couple of months, a lot of guys around the league have been getting into trouble. His main goal is to protect the (NFL) shield, so to speak. With the new rule being put into effect, it should alleviate some of the players getting into trouble.”As should Goodell’s other major adjustment of the policy: NFL teams will be responsible for the conduct of their employees, and will be subject to discipline for any transgressions. That is a big departure from the policy of previous years.”It will put ownership on the players to watch their conduct on and off the field,” Williams added. “Also, there’s an incentive on the team. The team would put more emphasis on the type of guys they bring into the locker room. As a whole, it puts pressure on both the player and the team, which is good.”And exactly what Goodell wants.
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