Commish: 'Take that stuff out of the game'

Updated: January 31, 2004, 7:49 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Paul Tagliabue has a powerful message for NFL players when they get to the end zone: Stash that cell phone.

And don't even think about anything more elaborate to celebrate a touchdown.

The commissioner warned players Friday that harsher discipline for over-the-top demonstrations are on the way.

He said unsportsmanlike conduct will draw stronger penalties and fines, even leaving open the possibility of suspensions.

Coaches and team owners have urged him "to take that stuff out of the game," he said during his state of the NFL address, held each year prior to the Super Bowl. He said the NFL Players' Association and the league's competition committee will discuss stronger punishment for stunts such as pulling out a cell phone in the end zone after a touchdown.

The New Orleans Saints' Joe Horn did exactly that on national television during a Sunday night game; the team was fined $30,000.

"Take taunting out of the game, take unsportsmanlike conduct out of the game," he said. "Cell phones, pens, all the other things, penalties likely will escalate if this does not stop."

Tagliabue said many coaches called him to say they were outraged by these episodes.

"They thought these were way outside the rules and uncalled for and humiliating to their players and embarrassing to players in general," he said.

Two years ago, San Francisco's Terrell Owens pulled a pen out of his sock and autographed a football after scoring a touchdown, prompting a warning from Tagliabue to all teams that similar acts would be punished.

"I think it's absurd," Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "It's entertainment. It's a sport. This isn't Desert Storm and it's not Iraq.

"My father went to Vietnam and gave up both his legs for this country. If someone wants to show off, it's no big deal to me. That's a lot bigger deal."

Panthers running back-kick returner Rod Smart, who made his reputation as He Hate Me in the XFL, also didn't have a problem with what Horn did. But he doubted anyone would try something similar in the Super Bowl.

"If he did, he'd probably be fined six figures," Smart said.

On the subject of Maurice Clarett, Tagliabue ruled out a settlement of the Ohio State player's federal lawsuit challenging the league's draft rules. A college player must be out of high school three years before he can be eligible for the draft. Clarett played just his freshman year for the Buckeyes and was suspended from the team last season.

The league wants the case thrown out.

"There are no discussions of a settlement," Tagliabue said. "It's a pretty direct point in terms of what the rule is and Maurice Clarett's status falls under the rule.

"Our system is working. It is easy to identify players who were helped by staying in school and were developing their skills."

Tagliabue clarified the ruling on players who tested positive for the steroid THG during the season, but were not disciplined. The league began testing on Oct. 6 after the previously undetected designer steroid was discovered following a tip from a track coach to one of the drug-testing labs.

He said it would have been unfair to the 32 teams to issue suspensions for tests done before Oct. 6.

"The league and players' association did not agree on non suspensions, I made that decision," he said.

He said Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players' union, and Harold Henderson, director of the NFL's Management Council, were working on the issue and that "we will get an agreement on whether there will be any discipline on previous use of THG."

THG use has been banned by nearly every sports organization and league worldwide, including the NFL.

Tagliabue also discussed:

  • Diversity hiring in the front office--

    Tagliabue did not think the NFL policy requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions necessarily applies to the front office. He said the criteria for hiring head coaches differs from that used for hiring front-office personnel.

  • Restrictions on hiring assistant coaches from playoff teams--

    Tagliabue doesn't anticipate any changes in the current interview policy for assistants seeking head coaching jobs.

    Patriots coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, despite seven interviews between them during New England's bye week earlier this month, did not get any of the head coaching vacancies. That was the only time they could be interviewed, and teams weren't willing to wait until February to hire them.

  • Los Angeles and San Diego--

    The league continues its search for a suitable stadium plan in the Los Angeles market. He also expressed optimism the San Diego Chargers would reach agreement with that city on a new stadium proposal.

    "We're working quietly and behind the scenes with experts on financing, construction, environmental issues and so forth, and we're not just holding press conferences and spinning things," he said.

  • Officiating--

    Asked if officials were throwing fewer flags during the playoffs, Tagliabue insisted the officiating has "remained consistent in the regular season and the postseason."

  • Art Modell--

    Tagliabue campaigned for Modell to make the Hall of Fame, although the retiring owner of the Baltimore Ravens is not a finalist this year.

  • The global game--

    In restating his support for international football, Tagliabue said he could envision the day when "a Chinese quarterback, Yao Fling," was throwing touchdown passes.


    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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