Analysis  

 

Workplace conduct comes into focus at NFL Annual Meeting

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins bullying scandal is continuing to reverberate through the league, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell scheduled to meet with union leadership next month to discuss workplace culture. And as the NFL Annual Meeting opened Monday, Goodell said that the three players named as the perpetrators in Ted Wells' report on Jonathan Martin's experience with the team will have to undergo psychiatric evaluations before any discipline is determined.

Mike Pouncey remains with the Dolphins and John Jerry recently signed a contract with the New York Giants. Richie Incognito is a free agent, and on Monday, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis indicated that he would "have to think about" signing Incognito to the Raiders, one of the possible landing spots Incognito has mentioned. After the Giants signed Jerry, general manager Jerry Reese -- in a rare public comment on a free-agent signing -- said the team had done its homework on Jerry. Now, it is unclear if those three will be available when the 2014 season begins. Goodell said that the league and the union had agreed that medical evaluation was the correct first step for the players.

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"Once they've been evaluated, the medical professionals, which are joint medical professionals, will make determinations of whether any treatment is necessary," Goodell said. "And it will be a requirement that they fulfill that."

Later, Goodell continued: "Depending on what the doctors prescribe there, it could prevent them from being part of football for some period of time. But that's a medical decision."

The fallout from Martin's fraught relationship with Incognito and the Dolphins has shaped much of the discussion at these meetings, where workplace conduct has become a central focus. Martin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, where he has been reunited with his former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.

While the April 8 meeting also will touch on the league's hope to expand the playoff field to 14 teams, Goodell and his staff already have met with 40 players from nine teams to map out improvements they hope to make. Taunting penalties almost quadrupled last season over the 2012 total, and John Mara, CEO of the Giants and a member of the Competition Committee, said he and others were concerned that such behavior was reaching almost unacceptable levels.

"(We've been) talking about what ... we need to do to make sure we have a workplace we're all proud of," Goodell said. "And those have been very productive, and this will be an important meeting with the union."

He added that the league also has met with outside professionals and with other organizations that have dealt with similar workplace issues. "This is a culture change. While modifying policies from time to time are important, this is about people understanding the importance of a professional workplace, where there is respect for everybody."

The meeting opened with a notable absence -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who is receiving treatment following his arrest for impaired driving. He has been replaced at these meetings by his oldest daughter, Carlie Irsay-Gordon. Irsay-Gordon and her two sisters have frequently accompanied their father to meetings in recent years and all hold roles with the team. Now, Irsay-Gordon, who has declined comment at the advice of her father's lawyers, has taken her father's spot. Goodell indicated that he will wait to see if Irsay will face charges related to the prescription medication found in his car at the time of his arrest before determining whether and how he will be disciplined.

"Obviously, any policies or any laws that are broken, whether you're commissioner or owner or player or coach, those are subject to discipline," Goodell said.

While Irsay's arrest was a jarring public revelation of what had until then been a mostly private concern, little else has changed for the franchise. Coach Chuck Pagano said he met with Irsay-Gordon before the meetings began as part of preparation for the meeting, but that otherwise it is "business as usual," he said. While Irsay grew up around football and is very knowledgeable about it, he leaves football decisions to his general manager and coach. Pagano said he and GM Ryan Grigson are trying to keep Irsay filled in on goings-on with the team as best they can.

"This has nothing to do with football right now," Pagano said. "This has to do with health and longevity."

There seems to be little concern among owners, among whom Irsay is well-liked, about what Irsay's situation could mean for the long-term welfare of the franchise.

"He's in the best possible place he could be, getting lots of professional help," Giants Chairman Steve Tisch said. "He's an extremely likable guy. He's unique, quirky, with a big heart. He's real. I'm sure to a person he is getting a lot of emotional support."

On Tuesday, attention is likely to turn to potential rules changes. Rich McKay, the co-chair of the Competition Committee, said that film review showed that players had adjusted their target zone in response to rules changes, and as a result, fines dropped from 40 in 2012 to 25 in 2013 for hits on defenseless receivers. He said that concussion rates for receivers and defensive backs also had declined, and that despite the perception that a lower strike zone might be leading to more knee injuries, the statistics had not borne that out.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.

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