Two days before Super Bowl XLVII, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the passing of Pittsburgh Steelers‘ owner Art Rooney and NFL Films stalwart Steve Sabol, noting their accomplishments and innovations. He said his own mission is to “make the game better.”
“Evolving the game to a health and safety culture” is one of his prime concerns.
He said as interest increases internationally it is a sign the game is growing. He wants to do away with some low blocks as well as head trauma.
Goodell says they are adding extended physicals at the end of each season as well as neurosurgeons to the everyday game sideline. He wants to emphasize prevention as well as treatment for both current and retired players.
Evolution and innovation were the two key words in his address moments ago. After his brief remarks, he took questions from reporters.
The first question he took quoted President Barack Obama’s statement that he “would think twice about allowing his son to play football” if he had a son. Goodell responded that the benefits of playing football are in fact life lessons – getting up when you’re knocked down, being part of a team, and relationships with others.
Goodell said he wants to treat head injuries conservatively and that people understand you need to treat these injuries seriously.
“We will not relent on this,” Goodell added.
The second question tackled the issue of hits that cannot be avoided and how some players think the NFL is just picking their pockets…that intent should be factored in, etc.
Goodell replied that they will have to “continue to see discipline escalate” and that “suspension gets through to repeat offenders.” He added that repeat offenders will see escalating penalties.
He also spoke hopefully of reaching an agreement on HGH testing and neutral arbitration with the NFLPA, saying that “we need to maintain integrity of our brand.”
“We have to make sure players’ actions reflect positively on the shield,” he added.
On the Rooney Rule: “We have to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions and give everyone an opportunity to do that,” saying that they need “a new generation” of the Rooney Rule, citing they had a record number of hirings overall, but “not the outcome we were looking for.”
It’s unclear if he meant dictating any “bean-counting” in hiring as yet or not.
He defended team doctors, saying they are some of the best and most highly-trained in the world despite 78% of NFL players “not trusting” their team doctors.
He emphasized again the addition of a neurosurgeon on the field (sideline).
Alcohol abuse was another topic he addressed, saying they have programs to teach players about the dangers.
He mentioned Article 50 of the new CBA which says any medical issues can be appealed to a “neutral three-man commission” including one picked by the NFLPA.
on the Rams’ possible move from St. Louis:
Goodell wants their “stadium issues resolved” and stated his belief that all involved want the team to stay in St. Louis. He likes the “public-private partnership” for financing to solve the problems over the long term.
on the 18-game schedule:
“If we had all wanted an 18-game schedule, we could have done that in the last CBA,” explaining that any changes must be done “collectively.” He again emphasized safety as well as keeping up the quality of the game. They looked at the preseason and wondered if 4 games were good, could it go down to two games, and how the fans and players feel.
“I’ll do anything that’s going to make our game safer and better, but I cannot appoint a single person that will do so. It’s everyone’s responsibility from the players to the officials to the coaches and doctors – and myself.”
on the Saints’ Bountygate scandal:
“there is no question there was a bounty program there for three years and that should not be part of the game. My biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing this is a collective responsibility to get this out of the game. We all share that responsibility. I regret I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough.”
“Our biggest risk is in being complacent. Innovation is tricky because the NFL leans heavily on tradition.”
on location of legal blocks:
“We’re going to review all low blocks with player advisers Ronnie Lott and John Madden and the Competition Committee. There’s no question there’s a focus on getting back to the fundamentals of tackling; take the head out of the game. Players are using their heads more than before – the helmets are better, the equipment is better and players feel safer.” Houston Texans‘ linebacker Brian Cushing’s season-ending injury was the catalyst at looking at the location of blocks, especially in zone-blocking schemes.
He finished by saying “there IS a ‘strike zone’ and we have to get back to fundamentals.”
on next year’s “cold weather Super Bowl”:
“Undoubtedly, the game next year is going to have repercussions on the future. I believe in the New York/New Jersey area. They have some great plans for it next year. But the game of football is made to be played in the elements. Some of the classic games in our history were played in adverse weather conditions. We all know them – the Ice Bowl for instance – and we look back and say ‘that was fun!’”
The theme he was pushing was that everyone has to work together to make the game better.
on Alex Smith having a concussion and losing his starting job:
“I strongly believe there’s a difference between a football decision and a medical decision. He’s been healthy enough to return to play, but the coaches made a decision to go in another direction so I understand the dilemma. It’s hard to raise your hand when you’re injured, but you can’t play well and compete when you have a lingering injury.”
on returning the New Orleans Saints 2nd-round draft pick next year:
“I understand the fans’ loyalty is to their team. I understand they had no part in this. I support their passion in support of their team. There won’t be any changes is going back to what I said earlier. There are 3 years of violations. So, the reason we’re not returning the draft picks is because the violation occurred.”
regarding those vacated penalties:
“Enforcing the rules will be done as fairly and clearly as possible. We’re going to have differences from time to time…and that’s okay. But we need to be fair to all moving forward.”
on a potential U.K. franchise:
“There are passionate fans in the U.K. and there’s another step to look forward to in London,” regarding the 2 games in 2013 to be played in London. “This is a market where we need to be more active, and we need to continue to grow our brand.”
He’s especially fond of the word “collectively” I noticed….