Letter from Commissioner Paul Tagliabue

• NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a letter by e-mail today to 600,000 fans who subscribe to the NFL.com Newsletter.

In response to questions from several fans in recent months asking what the NFL is doing to ensure responsible off-field behavior by its players, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has written the following letter. "The conduct of athletes attracts an enormous amount of attention and we want to make sure that fans understand what we are doing to address this issue," Commissioner Tagliabue said.

Dec. 5, 2000

Dear NFL Fans:
As you continue to enjoy this NFL 2000 season, we know that you appreciate the tremendous amount of planning and preparation that goes into the performance of our teams and players on the football field.

Far less evident, however, is the amount of hard work that the NFL and its clubs put into supporting positive player performance off the field.

We share your concern when the misconduct of a player victimizes other individuals. We know that the misconduct of even a few players can dampen the respect of fans — especially young people — for pro athletes generally. The wrongs of a small number of players can taint the image of an entire league and all of its players — past, present, and future.

Inappropriate conduct by athletes attracts huge headlines and often leads fans to question how serious sports leagues and teams treat this issue. You understandably want to know what is being done to keep players on the right path in their lives off the field.

I believe you recognize that the vast majority of NFL players are good people. In fact, many are outstanding citizens who do great work in their communities. Nevertheless, we as a league need to have, and do have, a wide array of thoughtful and effective programs and policies in place to support our players both on and off the field.

Why? Because our players — like other pro athletes — deal with pressures and responsibilities that few others in our society face at a comparable age. Only a few years after high school graduation, they undergo a radical transformation in their roles, responsibilities, and public accountability. Whatever the background of an individual player — whether from fortunate or difficult economic or family backgrounds — many young men are ill prepared for the challenges they will encounter as an NFL player.

Our office and the NFL's teams have been working hard with players on their off-field responsibilities for many years through a variety of programs and policies. NFL players receive assistance from us and are held accountable by us on matters ranging from gambling to substance abuse to possession of weapons to inappropriate treatment of women.

In 1991, we created NFL Player Programs (now called Player Development) as a league-wide initiative to standardize and supplement individual club off-field programs. Now, every NFL team has a Player Development Coordinator to implement a comprehensive set of programs with full club support. The mission of Player Development is to assist all players and their families in three key areas:

• Training and Development (annual Rookie Symposium for every drafted player, annual Life Skills training for every player on every team, and a partnership with the NCAA that sends selected NFL players to speak to college football teams on conduct and other life skills issues).
• Career Transition (financial education, continuing education/degree completion, and non-football career internships).
• Player Assistance (known in many companies as the EAP-Employee Assistance Program).

Under "Player Assistance," NFL players and their families are provided resources to address a wide range of issues. Domestic abuse, for example, is a major problem in our society that affects millions of people in all walks of life, including professional sports. In the NFL, we are confronting it aggressively through education, counseling, and disciplinary action.

There are extensive presentations on domestic violence at our Rookie Symposium and in our team Life Skills Training sessions, including the use of video and live dramatic scenarios to fully engage players in the seriousness of this issue. These presentations expose every player in the league annually to education on how to avoid becoming involved in domestic abuse situations.

Players and their families also receive printed materials on domestic abuse each season and outside professional counseling, covered by NFL insurance, is available to NFL families with domestic or other problems.

If arrested for or charged with a crime involving the use or threat of violence to another person, an NFL player is required to undergo an immediate, mandatory clinical evaluation by professional experts and, if directed, appropriate counseling. If the court ultimately determines that he violated the law, the player then faces mandatory discipline in the form of fines or suspensions without pay.

We are encouraged that our off-field programs are having a positive impact as evidenced by the significant decline over the past three years in the number of players charged with criminal offenses. However, several recent high-profile cases caused us to re-examine our policies and programs to determine what more could be done to prevent this type of behavior. In trying to learn from the unfortunate experiences of others, we spent considerable time last offseason discussing the issue with owners, coaches, players, and outside experts.

Last May we announced a series of enhancements to our approach. They included:

• The expansion of league-wide pre-employment screening of incoming players to better identify at-risk players.
• Mandatory intervention to support and counsel at-risk incoming players identified by the above screening process.
• A requirement that every club hire a full-time Security Director to supplement the local NFL Security representative employed by the league (many clubs already have a staff security director).
• Additional training of our coaches about off-field player development issues.

We want you to know that everyone involved in the NFL — team owners, coaches, club officials, and league officials — recognizes our collective responsibility to encourage and support proper player conduct on and off the field. We are just as disappointed as you when players do not live up to their responsibilities and to the expectations we all have for athletes.

You should know as well that the NFL players as a group strongly support our policies and programs. They don't want to be stereotyped by the misconduct of a few. They want to represent excellence — both on the football field and in their communities — in the tradition of Walter Payton, Troy Aikman, Derrick Brooks, and so many NFL players, both past and present.

On behalf of all NFL teams and players, thank you for your tremendous interest and support.

Paul Tagliabue