Tagliabue defends NFL track record on violence
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001
TAMPA -- If you wanted to give NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's Super Bowl news conference a title, Ray Lewis, Violence, and a Bunch of Other Stuff wouldn't be off the mark.
Having finished his scripted remarks Friday, Tagliabue spent much of the time answering or deflecting questions about:
Lewis, the Ravens middle linebacker and NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the aftermath of the double killings Lewis witnessed the night after last year's Super Bowl in Atlanta;
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
The Vince Lombardi trophy, awarded to the Super Bowl champion, could pass a white glove test after being handled gently while being put away.
Fines levied on Lewis and teammate Tony Siragusa for their unpenalized hits on quarterbacks Steve McNair of Tennessee and Rich Gannon of Oakland, respectively, during the AFC playoffs;
How evenly matched the Ravens and Giants are; that the league is not concerned about casino gambling near Detroit, site of Super Bowl XXXX, and about whether Jacksonville will have problems meeting its salary cap.
But violence off and on the field was the major issue.
Lewis originally was charged with murder; the charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony and a guilty plea to obstruction of justice. It became the biggest week-long non-game distraction since Super Bowl XXIII in Atlanta, with the issue of the Confederate Flag flying over the state capitol.
Ravens coach Brian Billick's blistering comments Monday to the media to lay off Lewis, and Lewis' sidestepping of questions during the week about his feelings on what happened a year ago, exacerbated an issue that wouldn't have gone away, anyway. Tagliabue acknowledged that "it negatively impacted the other players in the league, and the stereotyping of NFL players."
Afterward, he added: "I'm not embarrassed by the attention it's getting; I'd be surprised if it wasn't getting that kind of attention. I think Ray Lewis knows the seriousness of what he was involved in and he knows what his responsibilities are, and I think the coach knows that, too. But he was in a difficult position, having to come and get his team ready to play this game and at the same time deal with a very tough public and social issue."
The league's image has been smudged by the murder trial of ex-Panther Rae Carruth and sexual assault trial of ex-Packer Mark Chmura.
"We don't want our players to be involved in off-field misconduct that embarrasses us," Tagliabue said, "but the media attention, we're not embarrassed by that."
As for penalizing players for what the league considers excess force, Tagliabue said he thinks the fines have an impact, as do "conversations with the coaching staff as to where we're drawing the line, and that we'll step it up the next time if there's a repeat offense."
Asked about the first minorities to be chosen as coach in 42 hires -- ex-Bucs assistant head coach Herman Edwards by the Jets and the expected move of Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to Cleveland or Buffalo -- Tagliabue replied, "I don't think it will be 42 hires more, but one never knows."
When asked to comment on a report that broadcaster Paul Harvey said 21 percent of NFL players have a criminal record, the commissioner seethed.
"We track 3,000 to 4,000 players every year in terms of criminal misconduct" and in the 2000 season there were 26 investigations and 11 convictions with most, except for Carruth, being minor offenses.
"If the rest of society can do as well as we do in the NFL, America's crime problem would be well addressed," he said sharply, and strode from the lectern.
Tagliabue says Bucs not for sale
During Saturday's news conference, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked about the rumors, denied by the Bucs, that former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo -- once suspended by the league for his failure to report a felony bribe involving gambling licenses -- would be buying the team. His response:
"The rumors of Edward DeBartolo possibly acquiring the Bucs, I know for a fact that the Bucs are not for sale. Those rumors are completely unfounded. The Glazer family, they're going to be the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"On the second point about Edward DeBartolo and whether he could own some other team, he's certainly not banned from the NFL. He was suspended. I lifted that suspension early last year. If Eddie were to have an interest in owning a team or being part of an ownership group, we would review at the time of any such application his status, just as we do in terms of due diligence for any other applicant. But again, I want to emphasize, because I know it's important here in Tampa Bay, that the Buccaneers are not for sale; the Glazer family is going to be owning it. As I said at yesterday's luncheon, their goal is not to just host the Super Bowl; it's to play in one and win one, as owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
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