NFL owners will meet Wednesday to discuss the league’s personal conduct policy, vote on the sale of the Buffalo Bills and look at further international play.
These are critical meetings for the owners, with Commissioner Roger Goodell under fire for his handling of the Ray Rice case, and with several high-profile player arrests involving domestic abuse. Although the owners have supported Goodell remaining in the job, they also have been embarrassed by loud criticism of the league’s recent missteps.
"We need to limit this," Texans owner Robert McNair said of misbehavior by players, "so punishment is not an issue."
The discussion of social responsibility and the personal conduct policy initiatives will overshadow approval of the purchase of the Bills by Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula. That transaction is considered certain, with three-quarters of the teams needing to vote in favor of the Pegulas.
Owners will be updated on the Los Angeles stadium situation; TV ratings, attendance and fan interest. They also will receive reports on the league’s games in London — three this year for the first time, with two still to come. The NFL has an eye on adding more London games, perhaps as soon as next season.
But the spotlight will be on steps the NFL is taking to educate everyone in the league on domestic violence and sexual assault and abuse. The owners will view a short video, and then will see about a 40-minute presentation by the league’s player engagement department about educating everyone in the NFL on the subjects.
Heading into Wednesday’s meetings, Goodell sent a memo to the owners in which he explained why the personal conduct policy needs revamping.
"For the past seven years, the personal conduct policy has brought credit to the league and to NFL players," he wrote. "But during that time, we did not sufficiently review the policy to keep it current and ensure that it properly reflected our values and those of our society. Our process for handling allegations of misconduct was not as well-established as it needed to be. We relied almost exclusively on law enforcement and the courts to investigate offenses and determine guilt. We did not set and adhere consistently enough to our own standards, and we allowed our disciplinary responses to fall below where they needed to be. Nowhere was this clearer than in the context of domestic violence and sexual assault."
These are the first league meetings since Goodell admitted he was wrong in giving Rice a two-game suspension for punching his then-fiancee in an elevator. Following a torrent of criticism, Goodell announced stiffer penalties for future domestic violence cases. After video of the punch was released, the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice and Goodell suspended him indefinitely. Rice has since appealed the suspension.
Other abuse cases involving Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer and Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy also have been made public. All three are on an exempt list, suspended but still being paid.
Among the personal conduct items to be addressed, according to Goodell’s memo:
–"When an allegation of misconduct is made, to what extent should the league or clubs independently review and investigate the matter? Or should we continue to rely on law enforcement to do so?
–"Is it appropriate to remove someone from the workplace prior to an adjudication? If so, when? In particular, should we establish a practice of `leave with pay,’ under which an employee charged with prohibited conduct is put on paid leave status until the charge has been resolved? And what should the parameters of such a `leave with pay’ status be …?
–"What is the process for placing someone on paid leave status? Should these decisions be made by a third party, or a panel of outsiders, or should they be made by the commissioner?
–"What kind of support services should be available to victims and families, as well as to the accused?
–"What should be the commissioner’s role in the disciplinary process?
–"What level of accountability should be expected of clubs?"
In the midst of the domestic conduct maelstrom, the Pegulas’ offer of $1.4 billion for the Bills was approved by the NFL’s finance committee. Promising to keep the franchise in Buffalo — honoring the wishes of the team’s only previous owner, Ralph Wilson, who died in March, helped the Pegulas’ pursuit. Paying far more than market value pushed them to the front of the bidding.
And on Wednesday, it should lead to confirmation of their ownership.
"The Pegulas have been a class act and very energized throughout the whole process," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said Tuesday. "We will be delighted to approve them.
"They honor the history of the Wilson family and at the same time will take it in a new direction."