10-play guide has answers to NFL's tattered image


Attempting to keep players out of lineups, the kind police departments hold for identifying suspects, has become a desperate concern of the National Football League, which up to now has been thrown for a disturbing loss in trying to legislate good conduct.

Owners with enormous investments in franchises are vulnerable to what their highly paid employees (the players) do off the field. But are those same owners as interested in rehabilitating the conduct of the performers as individuals or are they more concerned that their teams' financial futures could be jeopardized if they don't take action?

Police blotters and crime stories in newspapers chronicle the names and misdeeds of the players - a source of embarrassment to themselves, their families and the teams that are unfortunately involved.

Two NFL players are caught up in murder cases and their futures are in the hands of expensive defense lawyers who will be paid handsomely to save their careers. Rapes, assaults, saloon fights and involvement with drugs are other recurring incidents that need to be dealt with.

The commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, is now warden Tagliabue; all in the interest of trying to keep law and order. It must be frustrating for him to be dealing as much, or more, with the conduct of players than the football aspect of his position. The commissioner's NFL job description, coming in, never specified any of that.

Former players have a feeling of lost pride. They consider what's going on casts a reflection upon them because the NFL identity once made them proud. Carrying concealed weapons never entered their minds, unless they could find a way to have a plaster-of-Paris cast on a forearm serve as a secret persuader to discourage blockers or tacklers.

Art Donovan, a Hall of Fame member, mentioned on a network television show that if the thuggery trend continues, the Super Bowl may need to be played at a state penitentiary.

Maxie Baughan, a Pro Bowl linebacker with 12 years of notable experience, said the league is going to have to curtail players from staging their own dancing/strutting shows, or else pro football is going to deteriorate into a maze of disgusting exhibitionism, akin to rassling.

Sam Lacy, sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, offered another observation worthy of thought when he wrote: "All those athletes who sign the cross and point to the heavens after an on-the-field accomplishment should be forced to attend church once a week."

It was in an earlier decade that Chuck Noll, bright Hall of Fame coach, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, wondered after a blatant hit in a game if a criminal element had entered the league. Maybe he saw this coming.

Mike Holmgren of the Seattle Seahawks said when he coached the Green Bay Packers that he told players arriving in training camp to "check their guns" - and six of them did. Presumably, those players were carrying rifles for hunting expeditions in the north woods.

George Young, NFL senior vice president for football operations, said he had no doubt that what Holmgren said about the Packers packing "a piece" was true. He also mentioned it could be a violation of various laws if it turned out they didn't have a license to transport a gun on an interstate basis.

The NFL, the most image-conscious of all sports leagues, realizes it has a damaging public relations problem that has been created by the players.

Spectators, if they are the caring kind, may be discouraged from continuing to spend high prices for tickets, plus allowing themselves to be mugged in outright extortion tactics for permanent-seat licences. All this mercenary excess to see a game in which misfits from society are allowed to participate.

And TV networks aren't going to be spending more for rights fees if the product they're buying and then selling to sponsors is besmirched by jailbirds and their ongoing nefarious activities.

There's no place for the NFL to go but the high road and tell us what exemplary young men it has in its employ. Without a doubt, they far outnumber the druggies, women-beaters, gun-toters and barroom brawlers.

Of the 2,500 players on rosters, only a handful have been found guilty of crimes. But the aggregate result is the offenders have caused more harm via the negative fallout than their well-behaved teammates are achieving by acting responsibly.

It's not a crime wave per se, but the NFL should isolate the bum element. Warden Tagliabue should run 'em off. Yet something more important, a moral treatise, is needed. So they'll be fully enlightened, a list of the Ten Commandments should be posted inside locker rooms.

An assistant coach should be designated to make every player copy the commandments on the first page of his play-book before he draws a single "X" or "O."

Sounds elementary, almost demeaning, if it can be said, but, yes, it has come to this. It would offer the NFL a chance to bring a sense of decency back to its game.

And it should be reported - on another matter that fits into similar concern - that a team in the league actually put a Catholic priest, a man revered for his charity, mercy and eloquent five-minute lesson-in-life homilies, on "waivers."

The priest was brought to the NFL by Ted Marchibroda. After celebrating early Mass with some team members, he spent the afternoon witnessing games from the sidelines.

When a friend of the priest inquired of the team why he wasn't there the previous season, he was told by a club official, in a woeful effort to explain the forced exit, that they didn't want him to hear what might be shocking language.

Imagine trying to advance that kind of fiction to a man who hears confessions, administers to all types of social and domestic problems and visits prisoners on death row? The team explained his services were no longer desired because it was going to hold interdenominational services on Sunday mornings.

If the Ten Commandments are posted in locker rooms, the NFL would be following precedence established by the Supreme Court, which permits representations throughout its own building, including the court room, where a bas relief of Moses is displayed.

And the NFL might put a copy in the press box, too, up where we angels are more like devils to some owners and those deviant players.

Yet, so far no sportswriters have been handcuffed by the authorities, accused of murder, thrown in a drunk tank, or, as in the case of a former owner, bribed an ex-governor with a $400,000 payoff to get a license to run a gambling joint in Louisiana.

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