PALM BEACH — NFL owners on Monday kicked off three days of meetings at The Breakers resort and added a wrinkle by entertaining comments and inquiries from a panel of fans.
The first question a moderator asked fans was what they most wanted to see from the league. The response was emphatic.
"They said (they wanted) integrity of the game," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "They were asked to define that, and they said to make sure what we see is real and everyone's playing by the rules."
Coming only days after the league levied unprecedented penalties against the Saints for an organized bounty system, the fans were heard.
The first full day of meetings was dominated by conversation about the investigation into the Saints' pay-for-performance program that rewarded players for hits that resulted in injuries. Saints owner Tom Benson made a somewhat conciliatory address in a closed-door session.
"He was very open with the clubs," Goodell said of Benson. "He expressed his disappointment that this occurred. This is not what he's all about and he expects to take whatever steps are needed to make sure this does not happen again."
So far, no one has heard from coach Sean Payton, whose season-long suspension begins Sunday. Goodell said Payton has a right to appeal, and his suspension would be temporarily lifted until an expedited decision. Payton, rumored to be at the meetings, was not seen Monday.
The Saints are reportedly considering former NFL coach Bill Parcells to replace Payton on an interim basis — permissible, Goodell said — but on Monday Parcells told Sports Illustrated he might not have the desire to coach.
"Do I have the bug?" he said. "I don't think so."
Meanwhile, those attending got an earful. Goodell again emphasized that individuals associated with the Saints made continual denials. Future violators risk stiffer penalties because, after this week, no one can say they weren't warned.
"There is zero tolerance in the NFL and it is not acceptable to hide the issue and continue to violate NFL policy, put our players at risk," Goodell said.
Goodell and others have talked about "changing the culture" of a game that is, by nature, violent.
Colts owner Jim Irsay said the game can be competitive but honorable.
"When you go to Canton, Ohio (to the Hall of Fame), and you see the great players there, there's a special bond," Irsay said. "I think there's always been a special bond with your competitors. I think that bond is self respect.
"I know it's a tough game. But I think you try to emphasize that aspect of the game, self respect and competition."
In a larger context, the league's consistent altering of rules to promote safety is an effort to change players' mind-sets.
By "constantly proposing rules … that emphasize player safety," the league underscores that it's serious about cleaning up the game, competition committee chairman and Falcons president Rich McKay said.
As for the players involved in the bounty scandal, Goodell said he will wait for input from the players union before ruling. He said he expects to hear from the union this week.