NEW YORK — NFL owners spent five hours discussing the league’s personal conduct policy, domestic violence and discipline for misbehavior during their fall meetings Wednesday.
No, there wasn’t much football talk.
“We had a tremendous focus today on our approach to social responsibility,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “What we need to do, potential changes, how to make them more effective, make decisions on a more timely basis.”
After approving the sale of the Buffalo Bills to Terry and Kim Pegula in the morning, the owners listened to a presentation on domestic violence that included a video by a former player appealing for recognition and action.
In the powerful video, Joe Ehrmann, a defensive tackle for 10 pro seasons (1973-82), beseeches viewers to imagine what it would be like to see a loved one being subjected to abuse. He then urges intervention to curb such behavior.
“Think about the role you have to raise up a generation of men that are going to have the clarity, have the moral courage to call out other men,” Ehrmann says.
The video was part of a 40-minute presentation put together by the league with the help of a group of outside advisers. The goal is to educate everyone in the NFL about the dangers of spousal abuse, child abuse, sexual assault and other domestic violence topics.
“It was very thorough, it was good,” Steelers President Art Rooney said.
There have been plenty of mistakes made recently by the league, most notably the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson abuse cases. In the midst of a maelstrom over how the league has handled those and other incidents, asked for a re-examination of the policy.
Among the topics discussed was Goodell’s role in handing out discipline, and he reiterated that all options “are on the table.”
He said the league has been discussing those options for more than a year, “debating whether there’s a better process, more efficient, fair.”
“Something that will allow us to deal with this complexity in a way we as a league will be satisfied, players will be satisfied.”
Goodell added that “when something affects the integrity of the game, I believe (the owners) think this commissioner should have the authority.”
Rice has appealed his indefinite suspension, handed out after a video of the former Ravens running back was released publicly showing him punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. He originally was handed a two-game suspension, something Goodell later admitted was the wrong punishment. Goodell increased punishments under the personal conduct policy in late August, before the video was released and Rice was cut by Baltimore.
Unlike Rice, Vikings star running back Peterson, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer wound up on an exempt list while the legal process plays out in their abuse cases. Goodell was asked if that list will continue to be used for future cases, or whether the NFL might hand out punishment even before due process in the courts has been completed.
He said the owners talked about “If there are findings of reasonable facts that there’s been a violation (of the conduct policy), should there be some interim step?”
“We take these incidents very seriously,” Goodell added. “They are unacceptable ... illegal.”
The independent investigation into how the NFL handled the Rice case being conducted by former FBI director Robert Mueller could take “several months,” according to New York Giants owner John Mara, a liaison between the league and Mueller.
Goodell and other owners praised the presentation on domestic violence.
“There was a great deal of focus on what support services we can supply,” he said.
The educational program will examine workplace policy, disciplinary considerations and “increasing understanding of the prevalence in society of these issues and how it impacts the NFL,” according to Deana Garner, the league’s director of player engagement and education.
Garner said the owners were particularly interested in all the internal and external resources available, including LifeLine, a 24-hour toll-free number created for “the entire NFL community and families.”
“They asked specifically how to activate those resources within their clubs,” she said.
“It is important with this kind of education to start at the top and have it filter down,” added Lisa Friel, vice president of the Sexual Misconduct Consulting & Investigations division for T&M Protection Resources, and one of the advisers helping the NFL develop and carry out the educational program. “From the owner to the guy in the locker room who washes uniforms.”
She also anticipates long-term benefits beyond team and league organizations.
“A lot of NFL athletes have been leaders throughout their lives,” he said. “We can tap into that leadership role ... and it can help empower others.”
Approval of the sale of the Bills was a slam dunk as the Pegulas gained unanimous support from the 31 other owners — and strong applause, too.
The Pegulas, who already own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, expect the sale to be finalized by the end of the week.
“This is a significant step in us owning the team.” Terry Pegula said. “There’s a small matter of having to pay some money and we’ll get that done.”
That payment would be for $1.4 billion.
Longtime Bills owner Ralph Wilson died in March, prompting the sale.
Buffalo sports fans were concerned the Bills could be moved out of state if purchased by another group. But the Pegulas are committed to the Buffalo area.
“If you asked me 10 years ago if I would own the Sabres and the Bills, I would have called you a liar,” Pegula said. “I just got a hell of a deal. I own the team.”