Column: Goodell Tackles Root of Problem

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 11, 2007; 8:18 PM

CINCINNATI -- By holding teams responsible for their players' misconduct, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is getting at the root of the problem. From now on, accountability in Cincinnati and elsewhere starts at the top.

One of the most notable aspects of Goodell's new conduct policy is that it gives teams more responsibility for ensuring that players abide by the law. General managers and coaches who like to hide behind say-nothing statements will have some explaining to do to the man in charge.

It's about time.

Teams like to give themselves a free pass on player misconduct. Bristling coaches point out that they're not the player's baby sitter. General managers hide behind e-mailed statements about how the legal case must run its course. Criminal mischief is treated like a public relations nuisance.

No more.

By substantially increasing the penalties for players who misbehave, Goodell sent the message that football is a privilege, not an entitlement. A fair and speedy trial is a constitutional right; playing in the NFL is not.

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry go the message on Tuesday, when Goodell suspended him for the first eight games of the 2007 season. Tennessee Titans cornerback Adams "Pacman" Jones got the same message with a full-season suspension.

Goodell also introduced a new conduct policy that will apply to future cases. The suspensions will be longer, the fines larger, the expectations more sweeping.

Franchises are required to expand their programs to help players understand what is expected of them and to help them stay out of trouble. Teams are required to have a full-time player development director and a full-time security director.

The policy doesn't spell out possible punishment, which could include fines or loss of draft picks. It makes it clear that the bar has been raised for franchises as well as players. Clubs "will be subject to discipline" when their employees _ including players _ violate the new conduct policy.

It's a major change.

"If the team would get fined also, the team would have to put more emphasis on the type of guys it brings into the locker room," Bengals safety Madieu Williams said, referring to teams in general.

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