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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports July 20, 2007 Every time the offseason begins, Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves holds his breath. And if you would wonder why, then you haven't been paying attention to the NFL over the last ...

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Old 07-21-2007, 09:03 PM   #1
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Cool Turbulent Times > A Good Read...

By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports
July 20, 2007

Every time the offseason begins, Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves holds his breath. And if you would wonder why, then you haven't been paying attention to the NFL over the last six months.

"It's been a long one. I can't say I remember an offseason like this," Graves said while preparing for training camp last week. "… It's been a while since I could remember this type of stuff going on. Maybe that's a positive that we don't have the tumultuous activity that other leagues experience from year to year. But at the same time, you have to be concerned about whether or not this indicates any sort of trend that may be developing with the league."

After arguably the roughest offseason in league history, the implications of so much negativity are a legitimate topic in NFL circles. The offseason suspensions and arrests were one thing, but Tuesday's indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was quite another. Now it's a league superstar – one of the faces of the league for years – at the center of massive controversy. And the details have left many front offices aghast.

"When I read the indictment, it turned my stomach," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen. "It didn't matter who was involved, really. It was disgusting."

Disgusting, and quite possibly, the incident that forces Roger Goodell and the rest of the Park Avenue braintrust to reflect on whether legitimate damage is being done to the NFL's image. Allen, Graves and other front office decision makers who spoke with Yahoo! Sports said they preferred to look at the situation as the league coping with an expanding media world. But even with the added scrutiny of television, newspapers and the Internet, the last several months have been remarkable in their impact.

Beyond the highly visible run of arrests, contract acrimony and vehicular accidents, consider the unique confluence of tragedy and negativity that has loomed over the league since the 2006 regular season ended:

*Three active roster players lost their lives in a span of five months – Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was murdered in a still unsolved drive-by shooting; Broncos running back Damien Nash died from undetermined cardiac complications after his charity basketball game; and New England Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill drowned while vacationing in Louisiana.

*Three players – Tennessee Titans cornerback Pacman Jones, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry and former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson – were suspended for what could amount to at least 32 games combined for personal conduct issues.

*Vick was among a group of men investigated by federal agents and eventually indicted for crimes related to a dog-fighting operation allegedly being run from a house Vick owned in Virginia.

With an offseason like that, training camp can't come fast enough. But it begs the question: Is this just the tip of a burgeoning image problem for the NFL? Or is it merely a run of unfortunate incidents at a time when the NFL is under the most intense media and entertainment microscope in league history?

"It's hard to get around things that happen day to day with clubs and big stories and that kind of stuff," Graves said. "You can't necessarily sweep things under the rug or hide anything anymore. If it's news – and particularly if it's big news – it gets out. It gets out fast and it gets out at the national level."

Never has that been clearer than the last 12 months, when the focus on the conduct of NFL players reached an unprecedented level. Certainly, the league has dealt with a firestorm of conduct issues in the past. One of the most intense periods occurred in late 1999 and early 2000, when the league's image was scorched by murder trials involving former Carolina Panthers wideout Rae Carruth and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

But that was also a period when former commissioner Paul Tagliabue went to the mattresses defending against any notion his was a league of thugs or lawbreakers. So what has changed? Well, the commissioner, for one. While Tagliabue typically did everything he could to bully the media into painting conduct issues as marginal hurdles, new commissioner Roger Goodell went in a different direction.

If anything, Goodell galvanized the media's furor early in the offseason, when he vowed to institute a tougher personal conduct policy that wouldn't wait for the legal system to mete out justice. And in turn, Goodell made personal conduct a very public and centralized issue for the NFL, drawing in all of the media gadflies who have delighted at taking the league and its athletes to task over the years.

"There's more attention paid to it now because it seems to me that the commissioner wants it that way," said Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson. "He's trying to bring it to the forefront.

"Players are scrutinized a little more than when I was playing. Certain things you did, that was OK. That was just boys being boys. It's a little different now – as well it should be. I think the commissioner and the players want this league to have a classy image. I think that's what we're all trying to shoot for, and you'll have bumps in the road when you're trying to get that across."

Certainly, the NFL has had the bumps before. As Allen pointed out, there have been high profile suspensions before, such as the season-long gambling-related bans of Paul Hornung and Alex Karras in 1963. Both Karras and Hornung were stars at the time, and their suspensions today would be the equivalent of seeing a Pro Bowl running back and defensive tackle being dismissed for a year in the midst of their prime.

"That was pretty big news," Allen quipped. "We just didn't have Yahoo! Sports then to let us know about it."

Allen pointed out that with so much attention focused on the negativity of so few players, it often gets left out that the overwhelming majority of the league – maybe in the order of 95-percent of the players – go about their careers without incident. But as the NFL has found out over the years and particularly this offseason, it only takes a few highly publicized issues to influence perception.

And that may never be clearer than in the case of Vick, whose legal issues in the coming days may forever influence how the NFL deals with its stars. As Allen pointed out this week, he's spent countless hours counseling his players on preventing conduct issues. Without a doubt, he's likely to spend even more from this point forward.

As Allen put it, "The only thing you can do in sports and life is learn from other people's mistakes."

And as a league, the NFL may have become more educated than ever this offseason.

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