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Conduct-ing change

Posted: 6:15 p.m.



Last month's conduct summit attended by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has mushroomed into an impending agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association putting more teeth into discipline.

Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA's executive director who said after that meeting he was surprised at the hard stance adopted by the players, told The Washington Post for Thursday's editions that the new agreement would put players at risk for one-year suspensions for "repeated criminal behavior." Like the NFL's drug policy, it would require an application for reinstatement.

"Wow," said Houshmandzadeh, who has yet to see the proposal. "We'll get briefed on it. There are some questions. Like what if a guy is arrested but isn't found guilty? Or what's repeat offender? We'll figure it out. Everybody wants to get something done."

Don't look for the Bengals to support a section of the revised code that would punish teams that have several players charged with crimes. Upshaw told The Post team sanctions are likely.

Upshaw, chairing the NFLPA's annual meeting in Hawaii, couldn't be reached for comment but a league spokesman said Thursday the new policy will be on the agenda during commissioner Roger Goodell's first league meeting March 25-28 in Phoenix.

Specifics are apparently still being hammered out and it won't be adopted until after the owners meet, The Post said.

Bengals owner Mike Brown is already on record saying he doesn't agree with team sanctions if a club has a number of players with criminal charges.

Brown has said teams should have more say in meting out punishment rather than the broad powers given to the league on legal matters in the collective bargaining agreement. Since teams don't have much of a say in discipline, Brown has said, it's unfair to sanction them for misconduct.

Tony Stewart, the Bengals' former player representative, is still attending the NFLPA meeting even though he signed with the Raiders last week. Houshmandzadeh plans to join him in Hawaii as the club's acting player rep. If the Bengals re-sign safety Anthony Mitchell, he would get the nod.

"It's at the point now, with all the attention, if you get arrested, it's just stupid," Houshmandzadeh said. "You don't deserve to be playing.

"But it's such a wide topic. Anybody can be arrested any time if you're wrongly accused, but you have to be smart."

Off-field problems once the exclusive property of the Bengals have now reached epidemic proportions around the NFL. The web site is running a "Turd Watch," complete with a scoring system ranking teams by criminal activity.

Since the last Bengals arrest (cornerback Johnathan Joseph for marijuana possession Jan. 20), eight players and coaches on other teams have been arrested, according to the site. The March 15 "Turd Watch" has five teams (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Oakland, Atlanta) with more points than the Bengals.

The Bengals' efforts to combat their problems caught Goodell's attention at last month's Super Bowl. He said they have met with NFL vice president Mike Haynes about establishing more counseling opportunities and Lewis was the only head coach in Indianapolis to attend the conduct summit involving Goodell, Upshaw, a handful of players, and three owners.

Goodell has the lone authority to fine and/or suspend players violating the personal conduct policy. He suspended Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry for two games and fined him $20,000 for violations of both the personal conduct policy (felony gun charge) and substance abuse policy (marijuana possession) back in October.

But Goodell has yet to make a call on Henry's final two legal resolutions: Two days in jail for allowing minors to drink alcohol in his Northern Kentucky hotel room late last April, and reckless operation of a car.

According to both the alcohol policy and the player conduct policy, there is no automatic length of suspension. It is only a "likely" suspension for a second offense under the alcohol policy or "a period of time to be determined by the Commissioner" for a second crime under the player conduct policy. Goodell is expected to hand down a decision before the April 28-29 draft.

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