's Super Bowl XXXV coverage

Tagliabue to defend NFL's handling of player conduct

TAMPA, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is anticipating he'll be bombarded with questions about Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and other players involved in crime off the field, during his annual state-of-the-league address Friday morning at Super Bowl XXXV.

Tagliabue won't volunteer his thoughts on Lewis, or the recent murder conspiracy conviction of ex-Carolina Panther Rae Carruth, or the sexual assault trial under way with ex-Green Bay Packer Mark Chmura, but he will defend the league's handling of player conduct if he is asked, a league official said.

Tagliabue will acknowledge the severity of the incidents, but he is expected to contend that the league has worked hard to enhance various player programs and policies addressing the issues that have dogged the NFL more intensively in the past year.

He also is likely to point out that the crimes involving Lewis, Carruth and Chmura happened a year ago, and that the player programs are a work-in-progress that hopefully will diminish the severity of future incidents. He undoubtedly will promote the good works of the majority of NFL players, such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks and Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jim Flanigan, who will be recognized as the "men of the year."

Otherwise, Tagliabue intends to promote the idea that the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants enter Sunday's game as two of the hottest teams in Super Bowl history with a combined winning streak of 17 games.

The commissioner also is expected to reach out to Baltimore in an effort to diminish the impression that he blocked the city from receiving an expansion team after the Colts left for Indianapolis.

Furthermore, Tagliabue will outline the progress the league has made on realignment in the past year as it grows to 32 teams with the addition of the Houston Texans in 2002. He will praise the steps the owners have taken to narrow the gap on realignment, including agreements on eight four-team divisions, a schedule format in which all teams will play each other every three-to-four years, and a new visiting ticket-gate revenue sharing formula.

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