NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the league’s suspensions of four players in the bounty case involving the New Orleans Saints and said Tuesday that he expects some of the evidence that led to the suspensions to be released to the public at some point.
“We’re going to do everything we can to provide the safest and healthiest environment for our players,” Goodell said at a news conference in Atlanta at the conclusion of a one-day owners’ meeting there. “And that is something we’re going to continue to do. I don’t expect that everyone is going to agree all the time, particularly when it involves discipline. That’s not the objective that I set out for. What I want to do is be fair and I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to provide that kind of safe atmosphere.”
Saints players and the NFL Players Association have contended they’ve been given no evidence by the league of a program in which players were paid for hits that injured opponents.
Asked Tuesday if he envisions evidence of bounties being released to the public eventually, Goodell said: “Yes, I do.”
One of the suspended players, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell in federal court in Louisiana. Goodell declined to comment Tuesday on Vilma’s lawsuit.
The union filed a pair of grievances over the suspensions. One contends Goodell lacks the authority to discipline players for conduct prior to the completion of the sport’s current labor deal last August and maintains that, even if Goodell has such authority, any appeals of the suspensions should be heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, the appeals officers for on-field discipline, rather than by Goodell. The other union grievance says that authority to discipline players in the matter rests with Stephen Burbank, the sport’s system arbitrator.
Vilma has appealed his one-season suspension. The union has notified the league that it is reserving the right to appeal the suspensions of the other players — Saints defensive lineman Will Smith and former Saints defensive players Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita — pending the outcomes of the grievances.
“Sure you second-guess yourself because that’s what an appeals process is for,” Goodell said. “You want to hear what the players have to say. Some of them indicated they wanted to come in and talk before the decision was made. I invited them in. They decided not to do that on the NFLPA’s recommendation, I think. I understand that. So when we get to the appeals, we’ll be able to talk about it and we’ll be able to hear from one another.”
Goodell, whose news conference was televised by the league-owned NFL Network, also addressed other topics Tuesday:
●He defended the league against allegations in numerous concussion-related lawsuits by former NFL players that the league failed to take the proper steps to protect them against the effects of head injuries.
“We obviously believe that any charges that we have not been responsible in this area are not factually correct,” Goodell said. “We’re going to defend this and we’re going to do our best to make sure that people understand that health and safety is not new to the NFL. We have taken the right steps. We have been leaders in this area. We have not waited for science. We have made changes to our game and we think we have done the right things over the last several decades and frankly over our history, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to do.”
●He said the league wants to improve its existing programs to help players adjust to life after their NFL careers are over.
“It’s a difficult transition,” Goodell said. “We want to be there to help our players.”
●He said he plans to speak again soon to DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, about the future of the Pro Bowl. Goodell said he intends to make a decision shortly after having that conversation with Smith about whether the game will be played next year and beyond.
“We’ve had numerous discussions over several months about what we can do to make the game more competitive,” Goodell said. “And I’ve said it repeatedly, particularly since the last game, that we have to improve the quality of the game. And if we can’t improve it and if we can’t make it more competitive, then we shouldn’t play.”
●Of the league’s ongoing series of disagreements with the union over various issues, Goodell said: “You don’t expect to agree on everything. That’s part of the dialogue. That’s part of finding solutions. We’ve had to do that over the last year, as you well know. The reality is you’ve got to put issues on the table and you’ve got to drive toward solutions that are good for the game, good for the players, good for our fans, good for the growth and how we’re going to maintain the integrity of the game.”
●Goodell said the league intends to have wireless network systems in all of its stadiums within a few years to aid fans who want to use electronic devices at games.
“We believe that it’s important for us to bring technology into the stadiums,” Goodell said. “We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home [for fans watching games on television] is outstanding and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums, we create the same kind of technology.”