Roman Oben is tired of hearing the repeated calls for Roger Goodell to be fired over his handling of a recent spate of domestic violence cases in the NFL.
"I'm disappointed that some people aren't satisfied until Goodell resigns," said Oben, a former offensive lineman who played for the Giants and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I don't think that's the right thing to do. There are intricacies to this situation, and just pushing him out and bringing someone else in isn't the answer."
Oben was one of 11 former players to meet with Goodell on Tuesday to discuss the commissioner's plan to revise the league's personal conduct policy.
Goodell said at a Friday afternoon news conference that he wanted to update the plan, and said "everything is on the table" as far as making changes. The league has been reeling in recent weeks from the fallout associated with five cases of alleged domestic violence; four players, including former Ravens running back Ray Rice and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, are currently suspended. A fifth, 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, was arrested in August for assaulting his pregnant fiancée, but has not been charged and remains on the active roster.
Oben commended Goodell for owning up to the problem, and said he believes positive change is coming to the league as a result of some well-intentioned soul-searching on behalf of the commissioner and other league and team executives.
"The sign of an effective leader is one who admits he needs to listen to the people to try to get it right," said Oben, who played from 1996-2007. "My last year or two in the league, I was a player rep when they were starting to put this personal conduct policy together, so I'm familiar with it and I think it can help."
Oben believes it's important not only for today's NFL players, but for future generations to understand the importance of proper behavior on and off the field.
"It's not about just solving the issue , it's about solving the issue so that people in the pipeline, these ESPN five-star athletes, get it, too," he said. "They have to understand what it means to be in this position. They understand it financially in terms of maximizing their income, but they need to understand the responsibility that goes along with the opportunity. Too often there is an adversarial relationship between the league and the players, and it doesn't have to be that way."
Oben joined the other former players for a meeting at the NFL's New York-based offices with Goodell and former Dolphins and Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, the league's vice president of football operations. The others were center Matt Birk, defensive end Patrick Kerney, former Jets defensive lineman Marty Lyons, defensive end/linebacker Willie McGinest, wide receiver Eddie Mason, former Jets running back Tony Paige, defensive end Robert Porcher, Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, defensive back Scott Turner, and former Giants running back Charles Way.
Vincent said in an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday that some former players suggested the NFL needs to be willing to kick players out of the league if necessary.
"Singletary looked right across the table at the commissioner and said: 'Don't compromise our excellence. We can't waste our time on a few individuals when there are long lines of people who want to come in and do it right,' " Vincent said. "We talked about cultural issues. We talked about trust. The theme really was, 'You can't save everybody.' There was one consensus: 'You have to be willing to depart with some of our stars.' "
Oben said there was also a different sentiment expressed during the meeting.
'We have to be in the second-chance business," Oben said. "You can't mandate behavior. All you can do is punish it. One thing we said was that the quality of the kid by the time he gets to the NFL is different. We've seen it go from 'Yes, sir, no sir,' to ' ---- you, pay me.' "
Oben added, "[The meeting] was about creating standards for the personal conduct policy, maybe removing some of the legal jargon so everyone is clear on it.
"Mike Singletary talked about creating a culture of excellence and what the league represents. The talent [of players] used to drive the brand, but now these kids coming up are taught that they are their own brand. But you still have to operate under the integrity of the shield. The relationship with the players and the NFL should be considered a family."
Oben said the players did not discuss specifics of the Rice case, which is under appeal. Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely on Sept. 8, just hours after a video surfaced showing him knocking out his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino.
"Today was a first step," Oben said. "With all the lumps that the league has taken, I think the NFL will be better for this. I appreciate that Roger Goodell took this step to have this healthy discussion about the future of our game, which directly affects the guys currently on the field. That's the bottom line."
Oben hopes players in today's game and into the future have a firm grasp on taking responsibility for their actions, especially off the field.
"The players need to understand they are commodities, on the field and in terms of how they live their lives," he said. "How you handle that can affect the rest of your life. Certainly, the mistakes you make in your career can bury you. I've been on boards [of organizations], I've been asked to speak at events, but if I was a knucklehead, those things don't happen.
"If you see [corporations] threatening to yank sponsorships , that hurts players in the long run," he said. "The salary cap doesn't go up, and your earnings are affected. You start yanking half-a-billion dollar sponsors, that's a big problem. Players have to understand that."
Words to live by. Hopefully the message will resonate throughout the NFL community.