|Roger Goodell says 'something has got to change' regarding the number of arrests in the league. (Getty Images)|
CHICAGO -- Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with union leader DeMaurice Smith. It was, as Goodell put it, a congenial meeting and it was, as Goodell also said, much needed.
Goodell's meeting with Smith was kept mostly quiet but it could be one of the most important of both men's tenure. The league has taken a PR beating as a rash of arrests has injured the reputation of the sport. Goodell understands this and while the league has been quiet publicly about the arrests, privately, Goodell has been working with the union on solutions to solve the mess.
In an interview with CBSSports.com, Goodell outlined some of the things he and the union want to do to combat the problem, focusing on strengthening the current personal conduct policy.
"We are going to do some things to combat this problem because some of the numbers on DUIs and domestic violence are going up and that disturbs me," Goodell said. "When there's a pattern of mistakes, something has got to change."
The numbers are indeed somewhat troubling. Player arrests in recent years are rising, going from 42 in 2010, 44 in 2011 and 48 so far this year.
In 2010, there were 16 arrests for driving under the influence, eight in 2011 (some league sources believe this lower number is an anomaly because of the lockout) and 19 so far in 2012.
Goodell has spent some of this training camp tour speaking to players and asking for solutions to the problem. Before that was the meeting with the union.
Goodell says he wants to focus on eradicating two main issues: drinking and driving and domestic violence. The main way the league wants to do this, he said, is strengthen already existing policies. The league may also add some new ones, assuming they can work out something with the union. Both sides have pledged to keep the substance of their talks private.
Under the current substance abuse policy a player arrested for DUI is subject to evaluation and entry into the substance program and (for a first offense with no aggravating circumstances, i.e., someone injured) a fine of two game checks up to a maximum of $50,000. Discipline for second or subsequent violations would likely be a suspension.
Domestic violence falls under the league's personal conduct policy. Under this policy any player or league employee that, for example, is convicted of domestic violence attack can be subject to fines and suspension.
"We've had some really good discussions with the union," Goodell said. "Now we just have to see if we can carry through with them."
There is the sense that something will indeed get done and I also get the feeling that changes won't be cosmetic. The union and league will take substantial actions, which include stiffer penalties for players who commit these crimes.
Goodell also spoke on the Saints case that continues to make news. Suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suing the league to have his year-long ban overturned and he is currently asking a court for a restraining order against the NFL that would allow him to rejoin the team immediately.
USA Today reported on some of Vilma's recent testimony and at least a portion of it appears to be highly contradictory. Vilma denied a bounty program but acknowledged the existence of "whacks" and "cart-offs." But Vilma said whacks are hits below the knees and cart-offs are when offensive players miss a few plays. Neither of these explanations makes much sense.
Goodell said this was more proof that what the NFL has said about the Saints is true.
"There was a bounty system," Goodell said, "and it was very widely known throughout that organization."
Goodell also addressed what has been criticism from players including union leader Drew Brees. I asked Goodell jokingly if he wanted to punch Brees in the face. Goodell didn't smile or miss a beat.
"I have no issues with Drew," said Goodell. "I have a great deal of respect for him. He's a terrific young man.
"Taking criticism is part of the job. There are 32 teams and 2,000 players. Not everyone is going to like you. But in the end what you have to do as commissioner is do what's best for the league. That's my job. Do what's best for football."