Goodell Weighs In On Behavior, Drugs

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 3, 2007

MIAMI, Feb. 2 -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that he intends to hold players who get into trouble off the field, and perhaps their teams as well, "more accountable" for their behavior as he attempts to prevent the league's image from being tarnished by a string of incidents this season.

Goodell, in his first pre-Super Bowl state-of-the-league address since succeeding Paul Tagliabue in September, left open the possibility of pushing for players to be blood-tested for human growth hormone if a test that the league deems reliable is developed, a position that potentially puts him at odds with NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw.

He said he will consider suggestions to improve pensions and benefits for needy former players, and he urged owners who are disgruntled with the sport's labor deal completed last March to be patient before drawing conclusions about its viability.

In his first season as commissioner, Goodell handed out tough punishments for players who misbehaved on and off the field. But that failed to curb off-field misdeeds, as approximately three dozen NFL players were arrested last year. One team, the Cincinnati Bengals, has had nine players arrested since December 2005.

"I think we've got to do more," Goodell said.

Goodell, echoing what Upshaw had said Thursday, indicated that he and Upshaw plan to meet in the coming weeks with players to talk about issues the players face and what the league and union can do to support them. But while Upshaw said he doesn't think harsher penalties for misbehavior are necessary, Goodell suggested that the next step might be to sanction teams with offending players as well as the players.

"We have to make sure our players are more accountable, but I think also our clubs have to be more accountable and we will be reevaluating our position to see if there are ways we should make our clubs more accountable," Goodell said, adding that he thinks there had been relatively few incidents but he regards even that as too many.

Upshaw and Goodell agreed recently to toughen the league's steroid-testing program, increasing the number of random tests to which players are subjected, adding the blood-boosting drug EPO to the list of banned substances and making more extensive use of the sophisticated carbon isotope ratio test to detect low levels of testosterone in samples.

The league is contributing funds for research to develop a reliable test for HGH, which is on the league's list of banned substances. Upshaw said Thursday that he and Goodell disagree when it comes to the prospect of blood-testing players for growth hormone. Upshaw said he opposes the measure because of privacy concerns. Goodell stopped short Friday of saying he would attempt to persuade Upshaw to agree to blood-testing of players for growth hormone if a blood test that the league considers reliable is developed, but he said he would keep an open mind on the issue.

"There is no reliable test for HGH right now," Goodell said, indicating he thinks it would be premature to take a more definitive stance on blood-testing of players for growth hormone.

Goodell and Upshaw have opened discussions about the possibility of banning players from receiving postseason awards or honors in a season in which they're suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was elected to the Pro Bowl after being suspended this season, and Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said that Merriman's suspension should have eliminated him from consideration for the defensive player of the year award that Taylor won.

On Thursday, a group of retired NFL players led by former Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer announced that it was launching an online auction to provide financial assistance to needy former players. Several of the players criticized the league and the union sharply, calling pension and medical benefits for former players woefully inadequate. Goodell said the league needs to work with the former players to address the matter "intelligently and thoughtfully."

In March, the owners voted 30 to 2 to approve a labor and revenue-sharing settlement that guaranteed the players just less than 60 percent of league revenues as compensation under the salary cap system. Many owners have complained that the new system gives too much money to the players and are threatening to exercise a 2008 reopener clause in the labor deal.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft attended Goodell's news conference and said afterward: "I think the union did too good a deal the last time. They overreached. We're going to have to recalibrate if we want to keep it going. But that's a topic for another day."

Goodell said he realizes that some owners are concerned about the costs of the deal but said they should wait until a more complete analysis of the new system can be completed before formulating their opinions. Upshaw warned Thursday that if the owners exercise the reopener clause, he will make certain it would be far more expensive to them in the future if they ever want to reinstate a salary cap.

"I don't think anyone is going bankrupt," Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, said this week. "We think the agreement is working pretty well."

Goodell said he was concerned about former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson telling the New York Times and Boston Globe that he believes he is suffering long-term health effects from Coach Bill Belichick pressuring him to play too soon after suffering a concussion. Goodell said the league will gather more information on the case and competitive issues never should take precedence over medical issues.

Kraft declined to comment on the specifics of Johnson's allegations.

"I'm not qualified to speak on that," Kraft said. "I'm not going to speak on that issue. It's a complicated subject. Ted is one of my favorite players, someone I have a deep affection for. He's in my thoughts and prayers. I'm going to leave it at that."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company