NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue isn't concerned about the league's image. He just wants the violence to stop.
That was the backdrop against which the NFL opened its annual spring meeting Monday. On-field issues have given way to more disturbing problems, the most serious of which are murder charges against two players.
"The issue isn't one of image. It's a substantive issue of player conduct," Tagliabue said after his annual speech on the state of the league to owners, coaches and other club officials.
Tagliabue, as usual, accentuated positive developments. He called last year's title game the best in Super Bowl history. He also pointed to the competitive balance others call it mediocrity
that enabled the St. Louis Rams to go from 4-12 to an NFL championship.
Outside the meeting rooms, however, discussions focused on the spate of player arrests - and some convictions - for a variety of crimes. Charged with murder are Ray Lewis of Baltimore and Rae Carruth, formerly of Carolina.
On Wednesday, coaches Mike Holmgren of Seattle, Tony Dungy of Tampa Bay and Brian Billick of Baltimore will lead a panel discussion on handling troublesome players.
But, beyond the debates, the league has taken no specific steps on confronting this problem.
"We're going to reassess the level of discipline," said Tagliabue, who two weeks ago handed down the first suspensions in NFL history for off-field violence.
Two game-suspensions were given to Matt O'Dwyer of Cincinnati and Jumbo Elliott of the New York Jets for their part in a bar brawl. Denard Walker of Tennessee, who pleaded guilty to assault on the mother of their child, received similar discipline.
"Just because these things happen, you can't junk the whole system," Billick said. "I think what we have to do is share our resources and share our ideas."
Some are ready to do just that, having instituted counseling programs.
Dungy and another Bucs official, for example, sat down with a star player and bluntly told him to drop a troublesome group of hangers-on.
And the New York Giants seem to have helped quarterback Kerry Collins and defensive lineman Christian Peter with intensive counseling.
"It starts at the top," Dungy said Monday. "I think if you let a player realize that his career depends as much on his behavior as how he plays, you're making a lot of progress. Once they know the things we don't like they can start doing what we do like."
No leaguewide anti-violence policy is likely to come out of these meetings. In fact, little of substance will occur.
Instant replay, for example, most likely will be brought back for another year, again featuring the coaches' challenge. Last season marked the first time since 1991 that replay was used.
Dungy's team was hurt by replay several times last season. But while he personally opposes replay, the Bucs will vote for it. Replay requires the approval of 24 of the 31 teams.
"I don't see eight votes against it," Tagliabue said.
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