NFL discussing off-field violence at league meetings

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The Independent Online

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is taking off-field acts of violence by NFL players very seriously.

With Carolina receiver Rae Carruth and Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis facing murder charges in separate cases, the league's commissioner will discuss the subject this week with coaches and team owners. Although no policy decisions will come out of the NFL's annual meetings, Tagliabue is eager to confront the issue.

Tagliabue earlier met with a group of players and NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw. He also suspended three players - guard Matt O'Dwyer of Cincinnati, Jumbo Elliott, the now-retired New York Jets tackle, and defensive back Denard Walker of Tennessee - for their off-field arrests.

"He's looking at something that not only causes image problems for the league, but involves criminal acts in the public," said one team executive, speaking on the condition of not being identified. "We can't have players going around shooting or stabbing people and just ignore it.

"Maybe they aren't guilty, but we still have to address the fact they're charged or involved in things like that."

Tagliabue will lead a panel discussion on the subject, and will call on Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy and Baltimore coach Brian Billick and an assistant coach from each staff. Although it will be more of a trouble-shooting conference, the commissioner will encourage each coach and owner to make policy suggestions.

Carruth was indicted for the killing of his ex-girlfriend, while Lewis has been charged with two counts of murder stemming from a knife fight the night after the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

O'Dwyer was suspended for two games for his role in a bar fight on Long Island. Elliott received the same suspension for that brawl, but since has retired because of a bad back. Walker was suspended for two games after pleading guilty to assaulting the mother of his son.

Tagliabue often has said the arrest rate of NFL players was lower than that of society in general. But he and Upshaw clearly are concerned about the hits the NFL has taken in such high-profile cases.

The major topic at these meetings, which began in earnest Monday, is instant replay. While the owners also will discuss revamping the schedule once they realign in 2002 - when Houston brings the membership nd several matters regarding television, replay is the juiciest topic.

Isn't it always?

The venom spouting from so many coaches - both publicly and privately - during the season has long since dried up. In fact, several of the coaches who fared poorly with the challenge system now are learning toward voting in favor of keeping replay.

The 1999 season was the first with replay since 1991. It passed 28-3 a year ago, with Cincinnati, the New York Jets and Arizona dissenting.

Twenty-four votes are needed for approval, meaning five teams have to switch, something considered highly unlikely.

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