NFL owners will meet Wednesday in part to discuss how to best move forward from the most turbulent stretch in league history.
Although the annual fall meetings are typically routine, these come at a critical time for Commissioner Roger Goodell, under intense scrutiny for his handling of the Ray Rice case and overseeing a league with several other players facing domestic-violence issues.
"I think it's a moment of leadership for the league," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said Tuesday, standing in the lobby of a downtown Manhattan hotel where the one-day meetings will take place. "It's an opportunity to step forward and do a lot of good for our country. The league, we're held to a higher standard than others and we have to live up to that. But we can provide leadership in bringing these issues to the attention of others in a way that women's organizations, as an example, can't do. So I think something positive will come out of it."
Social responsibility and the personal-conduct policy are expected to be the primary focus of the meetings. Owners also will hear whether changes will be made to how teams are selected for the annual London games and will get an update on the status of a team or teams relocating to Los Angeles, as well as the potential stadium sites and temporary venues — the Coliseum, Rose Bowl and Dodger Stadium.
There also will be votes on whether to approve the purchase of the Bills by Buffalo Sabres owners Kim and Terry Pegula, and whether to give St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke a one-year extension to comply with the NFL's cross-ownership rules. Kroenke owns the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets and plans to transfer that ownership to his son.
In a memo sent Monday to the 32 teams, Goodell outlined the main topic of discussion at the meetings, and raised the possibility that an independent panel of outside experts could take on the responsibility of deciding whether players who had been arrested can stay on the field while the legal authorities are handling their cases. Currently, it's the commissioner who makes that call.
In the memo, obtained by The Times, Goodell said meetings with experts in the field of domestic violence "have underscored the complexity of these issues and it is clear that there is no uniform response that has been adopted by businesses nationally.
"But," he wrote, "there is a consensus that a conduct policy should set clear standards, require accountability, and have a fair and understandable process for imposing discipline when necessary."
Art Rooney, president and co-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said that it's time to re-examine the commissioner's role in the punishment process.
"I'm hesitant to speak for all the owners but I do think that there's a feeling that it needs to be ... he needs to take another look at it, we all need to take another look at how we deal with discipline, and so I think he's left the door open for reconsideration of that," Rooney said.
Discipline and strengthening the league's personal-conduct policy was Goodell's signature initiative from the beginning of his tenure as commissioner.
Added Rooney of Goodell: "He's got a big job and there are a lot of parts to it, and I think we might all be better served by some of the discipline issue being handled by others."
Goodell framed the discussion topics in the memo by posing questions. Among them:
• When an allegation of misconduct is made, to what extent should the league or clubs independently review and investigate the matter? Or should we continue to rely on law enforcement to do so?
• What kind of support services should be available to victims and families, as well as to the accused?
• Are there opportunities for early intervention when someone has instances of misconduct before entering the league, for example, by requiring such an individual to have an evaluation, participate in counseling or other programs, etc.?
• What should be the commissioner's role in the disciplinary process?
McNair said many owners are unaware of the complexities of the domestic-violence issue.
"We've had someone in the family that was sexually assaulted, so we've had some exposure to it," he said. "But most of us, unless we've been very close to a situation of domestic violence, are unaware of what's really going on. Now we're more aware of it."