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Tagliabue Speaks On Value Of Sports Leadership


Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's opening address at the "Sport & Society in America" conference Wednesday made a plea for modern-day sports to produce the next generation of society's leaders, with sports so firmly entrenched as a fabric of communities large and small.

But those leaders need to be dedicated to areas other than economics and finance, where so much focus currently is placed on sports. He mentioned leaders and heroes of the past like Wilma Rudolph, Roberto Clemente, and Billie Jean King, among many others, as those whose torches need to be passed for causes that go beyond all the dollars.

Yet it's those very same dollars that must help that happen, keeping youth programs well funded and supported so that sports don't lose the grass-roots levels that help develop and produce the type of leaders he talked about.

"There's a lot of revenue in sport, professionally as well as the collegiate level," said Tagliabue in a briefing with reporters following his address. "At the youth level it's a much more mixed picture. There are some real shortages and funding cuts.

"I think across the board, there's going to have to be a lot of thought given when resources are tight, how do you reallocate resources? How do you do new and important things without eliminating too many of the important things you're already doing? That's a tough thing to do. It's about change, it's about innovation, it's about reprioritizing and reallocating resources, and those are hard things for organizations to do.

"My perspective is leadership is critical in all of that, and leadership comes at all levels. It comes at the top, it comes at the middle and it comes at the bottom."

Tagliabue was NFL commissioner for 17 years (1989-2006) and was invited by Green Bay Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy to speak at the conference, which is co-sponsored by the Packers and St. Norbert College in nearby De Pere.

"Paul is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I've encountered in my career in athletics, and he really understands issues inside and out," said Murphy, who introduced Tagliabue prior to his remarks. "I thought he would be the perfect person to start off this conference, and my expectations were exceeded. He really did an outstanding job."

The conference continues through Friday at both St. Norbert and Lambeau Field with speakers and presentations covering a wide range of sport-and-society issues, including ethics, gender, race relations, and several others.

"Ideally the main goal is hundreds of people who write about sports and society for a living, whether academically or in the popular press, will have their consciousness raised," St. Norbert president Thomas Kunkel said. "They'll walk away with new ideas, different ways of looking at things, new avenues to explore."

For more information on the conference, go to

New York Super Bowl 'Unique'

Tagliabue had broached the idea following Sept. 11, 2001, that the league might want to look someday at playing a Super Bowl in New York. But he doubts whether the realization of that idea four years from now will lead to other northern cities getting the big game.

The NFL owners, at a meeting in Dallas on Tuesday, awarded Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014 to an open-air stadium in a cold-weather city for the first time, choosing the new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, slated to open this coming season as the joint home of the New York Giants and New York Jets.

"It first occurred to me really after 9/11, and I said publicly then that I thought it could be a great opportunity for the city and the nation to have a Super Bowl in New York, and also consistent with the league's interests," Tagliabue said. "I guess that idea has grown over time."

But he doesn't see it necessarily growing much beyond that. The combination of New York's metropolitan area and a new stadium - fresh venues like University of Phoenix Stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and the new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas all have been awarded Super Bowls in recent years - made it worth studying a New York/New Jersey bid that needed a waiver of the league's Super Bowl temperature requirement to be submitted.

"I think New York is in many ways unique, for better or worse, for richer or poorer," Tagliabue said. "I'm sure there will be other cities in northern climates who would like to have one, but that's always been the case."

And it doesn't mean other cold-weather venues, like Green Bay's Lambeau Field, will soon be on the league's hot list.

"It's very intriguing, but there's a lot of logistical requirements that really need to be researched," said Murphy, who supported the New York/New Jersey bid. "My feeling is it's probably a one-time thing for New York, but we'll see."

{sportsad300}The league has called the waiver of the long-held temperature requirement - that a Super Bowl host city must have an average high temperature of at least 50 degrees if the game is not being played in a dome - a one-time exemption.

Other requirements Murphy was referring to that presumably would remain in place would include a minimum number of hotel rooms within a one-hour drive and a minimum amount of convention and entertainment space (all of which would have to be indoors in a northern city).

Labor talks upcoming

Murphy, a member of the NFL's Management Council Executive Committee, which serves as the bargaining team during negotiations with the NFL Players Association, remains optimistic that a new labor deal will be reached. But the question remains when.

"The reality of most negotiations is a lot of the work gets done as you get up against the deadline," Murphy said.

That deadline is March 1, 2011, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires, and with that still nine months away, it's hard to gauge how much progress will be made in the immediate future.

Murphy did say the two sides are working on scheduling a formal bargaining session for sometime in June, and he noted that some of the early negotiations will focus on areas of common ground, such as benefits for retired players and a new rookie pay scale.

"I still remain optimistic that we can get a deal done," Murphy said. "But as I said, there's still a lot of work to do."

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