NFL, Players Are Expected To Agree on Conduct Policy

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

The NFL and the NFL Players Association are expected to agree this offseason to a new player-conduct policy by which a player would be subject to a one-year suspension for repeated criminal behavior and would have to apply to the league for reinstatement, according to Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA.

The policy, Upshaw said, also is likely to include a provision with possible sanctions for teams that have large numbers of players with repeat criminal offenses.

"There has to be an end point, and that end point has to be a suspension," Upshaw said in a telephone interview from the players' board meetings in Hawaii. "We want to strengthen it. This will have the players' input into the process. This won't be coming from the top down. This will be coming from the bottom up."

The policy could be completed soon after Upshaw finishes his meetings with players in Hawaii and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell meets with owners at the annual league meeting late this month in Phoenix, Upshaw said.

"After that, I think we'll be at a point where we have a pretty clear direction," Upshaw said.

Goodell and Upshaw met Monday and discussed the specifics of the proposals they planned to present to the owners and players, according to Upshaw. "We talked about certain things we will both bring up at our meetings," Upshaw said.

A league spokesman declined to comment, saying NFL officials would withhold comments about specific proposals until the league meeting.

The issue of player discipline for off-field misbehavior has become perhaps a pressing matter after the arrests of about three dozen NFL players last year. Upshaw has called player conduct the most significant threat to the league's prosperity, and Goodell said at the Super Bowl that he and Upshaw would review all the NFL's practices for policing its players.

Currently, all discipline for player misconduct is at the discretion of the commissioner, who has the authority to fine and suspend players without pay for misdeeds under the league's personal conduct policy. No player ever has been suspended for more than four games under the personal conduct policy, although Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman was suspended for three games and fined an additional two game checks by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2004 for ramming his sport-utility vehicle into a car carrying his wife, young son and the couple's babysitter. Last season, Goodell suspended Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry for two games and fined him $20,000 for violations of the personal conduct and substance abuse policies.

In September, Bengals linebacker Odell Thurman had a four-game suspension for a violation of the substance abuse policy extended for the remainder of the season after a drunken-driving arrest. Discipline for crimes relating to use or possession of substances of abuse are covered under the league's drug policy.

Under the new player-conduct policy, the commissioner still would make the decisions about discipline. But he would operate with a set of guidelines set by owners and players.

Goodell and Upshaw met with a group of players at the NFL scouting combine last month in Indianapolis, and there were reports afterward that some players favored a "three strikes and you're out" disciplinary policy. But Upshaw said that handing out punishments for criminal behavior is not always so clear-cut because of debate over what conduct would warrant a violation.

"You have to consider each case on its own merits," Upshaw said. "But there has to be an end point, and the players will embrace that. Whatever that end point is, I think the punishment will be that you're out for a year and then you can ask for reinstatement."

Goodell has left open the possibility of punishing teams for player misconduct, and Upshaw said that's a strong possibility.

"I think a team will have to be looked at in terms of: Is it doing all it can do? Is it doing everything it can in terms of player development programs, in terms of having a security guy?" he said. "Roger definitely would like to see the clubs held to a higher standard, just like the players."

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