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Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Commentary: NFL needs more than a dress code

October 23, 2005

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If the dress code laid down by NBA commissioner David Stern succeeds in spiffing up his league's image, it won't be long before NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue follows suit.

Business-casual probably won't cut it, though. The way some people around Tagliabue's league have been acting recently, the first item on any list of approved clothing could be a straitjacket.

From his Park Avenue office in New York, pro football's czar is surveying a landscape that might not have looked this messy since the days when Ray Lewis beat a murder rap (and Rae Carruth didn't).

The incidents are unrelated and in various stages of investigation - or, in one case, negotiation - but the bad publicity touches every compass point on the league map:

From Lake Minnetonka in the north, where a Vikings' boat party veered into murky waters; to Lake Pontchartrain in the south, where Saints owner Tom Benson has been dropping hints about abandoning New Orleans for good.

And from Seattle in the west, where Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren declared a neighborhood off-limits after one of his players was severely beaten there; to Charlotte, N.C., in the east, where one practice-squad player left the team after testing positive for steroids and a few others have been linked in reports to a doctor indicted for distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

Minnesota is the messiest of the four and likely to be the longest-running. It began with a boat ride several weeks ago, and the backwash continues to make headlines.

Staff members on the two rented cruise ships involved described the original party as lewd, inebriated and excessive enough to make even Tara Reid blush. The latest wrinkle was a story in this week's Sports Illustrated recounting how normally circumspect Vikings owner Zygi Wilf blistered his team with a profanity-laced tirade and threatened to can anyone involved in planning the event.

The remarkable thing, according to several players quoted anonymously by the magazine, is that it was an annual event.

Another former Viking told the magazine that it had been going on every year, "and every year it has escalated."

The people of Louisiana might say much the same about Benson's implied threats to take his franchise elsewhere.

He was part of an ownership group that bought the team in 1986, promising to keep the Saints in town. Benson then bought out his partners and then arm-twisted the state to pay for new offices, an indoor practice field and numerous improvements to the Superdome over the past two decades.

And now that Louisiana, struggling to recover from devastating back-to-back hurricanes, has nothing left to bribe him with, Benson apparently is turning his attention to San Antonio, the team's "temporary" home.

If he ever made the move permanent, it would make Art Modell's sleazy end-run from Cleveland to Baltimore look almost honorable.

"We want our Saints, we may not want the owner back," New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said earlier this week, shortly after learning Benson was discussing a move with San Antonio officials and had fired two top executives known to favor keeping the Saints in Louisiana.

"I'm ready to go to the NFL and to Tagliabue and say, 'Give us the Cleveland plan,"' the mayor added.

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