When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent huddled recently with retired players about player conduct issues, former Ravens kicker Matt Stover was among the voices they sought out.
As the NFL deals with significant fallout from a series of off-the-field problems -- including incidents with former Ravens running back Ray Rice (domestic violence), Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (domestic violence) and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (child abuse allegations) -- the league is seeking guidance from a variety of former players.
That group includes players who have upstanding reputations like Stover and former Ravens center Matt Birk along with others who found trouble off the field like defensive tackle Christian Peter.
Stover said he came away from the meeting last week convinced that the NFL is serious and sincere about wanting to make changes to its personal-conduct policy and trying to reform players who get into trouble both through punishment and educational initiatives.
"The NFL wants to help these guys, they don't want them to get into these situations," Stover told The Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview. "A real man will take responsibility. A real man will do this with courage. Troy Vincent and Roger Goodell want to create positive changes. It was great. It was a neat opportunity.
"I think it was a valuable time for the commissioner to see the passion, to see that the players are probably tougher than he is about player conduct. We really are, even the ones who have been in trouble before. They understood the privilege and eventually grew up in the league and managed their lives better."
When the NFL owners meetings are conducted Wednesday in New York, player conduct is expected to be a major topic of discussion judging from a memo obtained by The Baltimore Sun that Goodell sent to all NFL teams.
The NFL is considering implementing many changes, including having outside experts evaluate whether a player should be put on paid leave while their legal case is pending. There's also a possibility that a player council will be established to help determine how the NFL handles player discipline and applies the personal-conduct policy going forward.
"Really, it's about having high standards," Stover said. "That's one of the statements I made, that it needs to be even higher because we're in the public view. There's much more responsibility to conduct yourself responsibly. This league right now is a bunch of young kids, not seasoned vets. When I came into the league in 1990 with the New York Giants, there was Jeff Hostetler and Mark Bavaro and Phil Simms, guys I respected and honored as men, guys with families.
"What we've got to be careful about as a league is to make sure these guys have the proper understanding of what's truly expected of them as players. When we were talking, we were very stern about the need to be severe when it's called for. That's where the rubber meets the road. With the judicial system, there are 50 different ones and the ability to gather information to get a proper understanding about what happened and whether it warrants an investigation, that's tough. It takes a lot of input and information to get it right."
Stover expressed confidence that former players will have a voice in terms of the disciplinary process in the future with a potential player council or committee discussed.
Current players, including New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, have emphatically stated that Goodell's power needed to be checked.
"This is a league of second chances," Stover said. "I believe Goodell and the NFL want it to be that way. That's where one of my suggestions was a possible player council that needs to be approved by the union as well. Nobody who was in that room wants to devalue the authority of Roger Goodell. It has to stop with him, he's the overseer. We all trust him and respect how he conducts himself and what he's done with the league."
Stover said the league is aware that there are societal changes it needs to take into account with players, including their backgrounds, with many players coming from single-parent families.
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"As somebody who was in the league for 20 years, I understood that I also had a very good upbringing," Stover said. "I had those boundaries. I was also married and that helps. A lot of things in my life were good. As a league, we have a responsibility to help these kids. That's part of it for me as an ambassador. When you raise children, you can't tell them just once. It takes five, six, seven, eight, nine times for them to get it unless they touch a hot stove and then it only takes once.
"I think the NFL does an excellent job at the rookie symposium, but it needs to be a continual message. I do believe the NFL will do a more concerted effort to educate these guys and bring content to them, keep it fresh. We all have a social responsibility to help."
Going forward, Stover expressed hope that things will improve markedly in the years to come and that some positive changes will arise from this troubling time in the NFL.
"My heart is for the players," Stover said. "My heart is to allow them to seize an opportunity of a lifetime and maintain it and manage it well. I want the NFL to be a catalyst to help these young men to become responsible young men. We are in the public eye. I'm privileged to serve. We need to take the brand of the NFL very seriously and deliver a message of social responsibility and handle our business and finances well and help our communities. The players do care. It's a players' league, but we've got to be careful. Our lives are under a lot of scrutiny and we need to remember that. We want to help these guys. We want them to be great players and great citizens.
"The type of player that's coming into the league today and the culture today and what that's teaching them, the players are younger and there's less accountability, and that's creating a problem. There's a lot of confusion about what a real man is. If you have a culture turning away from God and a lot of fatherless young men, that has a real negative effect. A real man is somebody who takes responsibility in all facets of their lives. It's very important that we share responsibility and not just sweep things under the rug. We need to reject passivity and be courageous. Admitting fault takes courage. That's a real man."