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NFL Union: Players Want To Stem Violence

Three times a week, Tony Dungy stands in front of his Indianapolis Colts and reads the newspapers. Specifically, the police blotter: stories about athletes in trouble with the law.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, even when it's someone as respected as Dungy doing the talking. Example: After the Colts won the Super Bowl, one of the game's stars, running back Dominic Rhodes, was charged with drunken driving, the third Colt arrested in the last two years.

Thus the proposal by commissioner Roger Goodell and Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, to enact a "three strikes and you're out" rule that would ban players for life after a third conviction.

"We have to face it, there's a problem" Upshaw told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The percentage of players involved in this is very, very low. But there's a perception out there and the problems are real."

What makes this unique is that the push is partly coming from players, starting with 10 who attended a meeting in Indianapolis last week with Goodell, Upshaw and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. It was called to discuss escalating misbehavior involving NFL players, including the shooting that left Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams dead after the team's final game on New Year's Eve.

"If you want players to listen, it has to come from the bottom, not the top. Not from Roger and me," Upshaw said. "If other players tell them that's the way it should be, it has a much greater effect."

Last fall, Goodell called Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown and offered help for a teamwide problem _ eight Bengals (now nine) arrested in a year. But Bengals players are concerned, too.

"Enough is enough," quarterback Carson Palmer said at the Super Bowl.

Player ferment already has started.

Late last season, Jason Taylor of Miami suggested that anyone suspended for a performance-enhancing drug be ineligible for postseason awards. He was referring to San Diego's Shawne Merriman, who led the league in sacks despite being suspended for four games.

Taylor was voted defensive player of the year, although Merriman got six votes in the balloting by writers and broadcasters.

Goodell and Upshaw are proposing that the same standard that's used by the NFL for drug offenses be applied to lawbreakers. That is, three convictions and a player is subject to a lifetime ban.

That sounds strong.

But no player has been kicked out of the league forever. Ricky Williams, for example, has failed four drug tests and was suspended for a year, but could apply for reinstatement for the 2007 season. If the Upshaw plan is "three strikes and you're out," where does Williams stand? "Four strikes and you might be in"?

Still, the meeting involving Upshaw, Goodell and the players was an eye-opener, emphasizing what too many athletes in their 20s ignore _ they are not invincible.

One of those present was Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin, who in October 2005 spent a week in the hospital with a fractured skull, bruised brain tissue and a blood clot near his brain after a bar fight in Seattle. He recovered and played in 2006, but acknowledged he was lucky.

"He was a testament to what can happen when you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, which happens to a lot of guys," said Upshaw, noting that Williams was doing nothing wrong when he was shot. "He was the victim, not the attacker. People see athletes come into a bar. Women gravitate to them. Other people get angry."

That's what's Dungy emphasizes.

"I point out that being out at 1 or 2 or 3 in the morning, or to be in places with dubious characters is not what you should be doing," he said last December. "You have to remember that you're high profile and that there are people who would like to take you down."

The discussion at the meeting in Indianapolis covered many subjects, including the Hamlin case and the Willims shooting.

"The one name I kept hearing was Lawrence Phillips," Upshaw said, referring to the running back who was the sixth overall choice in the 1996 draft after troubles with the law while in college at Nebraska. Phillips was given numerous chances _ he even led NFL Europe in rushing one summer _ but never made it as a pro.

"We agreed on a general philosophy that we want better individuals coming into our game," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "Men who come in from college, we want them to leave being better men than when they came in. That's the goal from Roger, all the way down."

Since then, teams have been doing more extensive pre-draft background checks, although talent still usually trumps character..

A few days before the Indianapolis meeting, Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones was involved in a triple shooting at a Las Vegas strip club during the weekend of the NBA All-Star game. Police took $81,000 in bills that they said belonged to Jones and said he'd been using them to shower on strippers.

Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said last week there is no guarantee the team will keep Jones _ the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft _ after his eighth encounter with police since becoming a Titan.

The slant of the Indy meeting was that most of the nearly 2,000 NFL players don't get in trouble with the law. Dungy keeps track of offseason arrests and says the number has been 17 to 25 each year. There are no figures for this year.

But the meeting of a commissioner, a union head, an owner and 10 players clearly shows there's a problem.