They each took turns speaking to the commissioner. Between the 11 former NFL players, there were over 100 years of NFL experience. Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers and legends. They each took a turn. One by one. They wanted to speak to Roger Goodell. They wanted to talk about protecting the game.
It is chaos in the NFL right now. There are fans and media who want Goodell fired. Who want the owners fired. Who want the Baltimore Ravens banished to the CFL. It's a mess.
This meeting, though, was a moment of introspection. A rare moment of reason and calm. It seems odd that Mike Singletary, such a proficient beast as a player—and renowned mooner as a coach—would be one of the representatives of that calm, but he was.
Singletary was one of the first to speak. He talked about standards and how the NFL always had the highest. "How do we get back to excellence?" he asked.
"We had some old-school voices in the room," Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, and one of the organizers of the meeting, told Bleacher Report. "When they speak, you sit back, shut up and let the veterans lead."
Marty Lyons, the former Jets great, talked of using former players to be a part of the discipline process. Lyons expressed the desire to see a committee of ex-players be the ones administering the fines instead of Goodell. This is something swiftly gaining momentum among current and ex-players.
Too many times, I'd say especially over the last few years, a punishment's been handed down and nobody has really seen the evidence except for those in the league office—supposedly. So decisions were made in kind of a, 'Hey, trust us.' But did the public see any of the facts? Did the accused see any of the facts? In most cases, no.
Back in the meeting, one of the smartest guys in the room, former Giants offensive lineman Roman Oben—one of the smartest guys in any room he's in—spoke of the changing culture among today's players.
Oben told Bleacher Report, "What I said was, 'We've seen the shift from players saying, 'Yes, sir; no, sir,' to, 'F you; pay me.'"
The meeting, held at the NFL's offices in New York, went for three-and-a-half hours. Veteran after veteran talked: Singletary, Matt Birk, Patrick Kerney, Lyons, Willie McGinest, Eddie Mason, Oben, Tony Paige, Robert Porcher, Scott Turner and Charles Way.
The purpose was to think of ways to improve the league's personal conduct policy. The meeting got extremely emotional at times. "You saw what the game meant to so many people," Vincent said.
This entire Rice aftermath story continues to evolve and shift and grow tentacles in numerous directions: the media, society...almost touching every aspect of American life. The story's momentum hasn't slowed, and while it remains slightly out of the public eye for now, behind the scenes, there is a great deal of activity. This meeting is an example of that.
One of the most interesting aspects of the meeting was about one of the more controversial proposals that could happen and might change the complexion of the sport.
Vincent polled each of the players, asking them how they would feel if, when a player was arrested for domestic violence, the NFL deactivated them—with pay—until the court system provided more clarity. Each player, Vincent explained, agreed.
My guess: This is where we're headed. We're a long way from any sort of certainty, but it's possible we will soon see an NFL reality where, if a player is charged with a domestic violence crime—not found guilty, but simply arrested or accused—that player is removed from play, while earning his salary, as the NFL and authorities investigate.
"Everything is on the table," Vincent said.
I envision a scenario that goes like this:
Say a player is arrested for striking his wife. The police report contains explicit details. The player denies he did anything wrong.
A special team of NFL investigators—composed of former police detectives, FBI agents and Homeland Security agents agreed upon by the union and league—would conduct its own examination while the player was deactivated with pay.
An agreement with the union would mandate that the investigation be completed within a month or the player would be temporarily allowed to play again pending the court case. The investigative unit would have no subpoena power, but it would be tasked with finding probable cause if the suspension should continue pending the court case, or the player would be allowed back on the field.
If the player were allowed to play again, the next chance at discipline would come pending adjudication. If convicted, the player would go before an ex-player council, determined by union and NFL, and that council would mandate punishment from a menu of predetermined options.
The first domestic violence conviction or plea bargain would be eight games. The second would be banishment for one year with opportunity for reinstatement. The third would be banishment with no possibility of reinstatement. Appeals would go to the commissioner.
Is such a scenario science fiction? It might be. I'm convinced, however, that the NFL will see a radical departure from what we see now.
I think the NFL and the union will reach a bargain where the league will get the power to deactivate players under suspicion for domestic violence as long as they want, in exchange for Goodell having his power to suspend reduced or eliminated, with a committee of ex-players taking the lead on discipline.
In a powerful radio interview, it sounded like union head DeMaurice Smith would be OK with a scenario where a player was deactivated with pay pending an investigation. Except Smith didn't use the word deactivate; he called it "leave."
Goodell and Smith are scheduled to meet soon, according to a person familiar with the situation, if they haven't already.
There is also this, the elephant in the room: One player who was in the meeting pointed out that the league has to address a societal issue. He explained that some 60-70 percent of the players entering the NFL are African-American, and a substantial number of those players come from households run by single-parent homes or households run by a grandmother or other more distant relative.
As the player said, coming from a disadvantaged background provides these players with strength and mental toughness, because they've overcome brutal odds. That's a good thing. But some of these players enter the NFL with emotional and anger issues, and they are played out on a national stage.
What might happen is, if the NFL deciphers this problem and its tactics work in reducing violent crime issues in the league, then those solutions could filter down to college. So you'd have a cleaner college game and players entering the NFL with less emotional baggage.
One of the things that surprised me the most about the meeting was the overall support—and sympathy—the players had for Goodell. Said one: "He shouldn't pay attention to polls or social media. Just get it right."
Amid so much uncertainty, there is one thing we do know: In a matter of months, the way the league disciplines its players, particularly when it comes to domestic violence, will look extremely different.
"We're going to get this right," Vincent said.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.