Concerns about safety issues and the future of the NFL game dominated Super Bowl XLVII week and were a primary topic for Commissioner Roger Goodell in his annual press conference on the state of the game.
Goodell stressed that educating players at an early age about proper tackling is a priority and said that owners are not placing profit ahead of the safety of the players. He defended team physicians in the face of an NFL Players Association survey indicating that nearly four out of every five players do not trust team doctors. Goodell also indicated that low blocks, like the one that ended Brian Cushing’s season, may be banned before next season.
On other matters, he said that expanding the schedule to 18 games remains something that is under consideration, he expects an agreement with the NFLPA on human growth hormone testing to be in place before next season and said that the lack of diversity hires for head coaching and front-office positions this offseason was “unacceptable.”
On HGH testing: Goodell took the PR game to the NFLPA with his one. “It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game. And it’s also the right thing to do, to send the right message to everybody else in sports: You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The science is there. There is no question about that.”
On the Rooney Rule concerning diversity hiring: “The Rooney Rule has been very effective. We have to look to see what the next generation is. We have to take it to another level.” It did not, though, produce desired results this season. “We want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions, [but] we didn’t have the outcomes we wanted.”
On President Obama’s reservations about allowing a child to play football: “The issue of player health and safety has always been a priority and will continue to be a priority. [Playing football] teaches you character, values, teamwork, extraordinary lessons in life. … I welcome the President’s comments because we’re working to make the game safe. There’s a better recognition of head injuries and treating them conservatively. What we are doing is leading the way and telling people that you need to treat these injuries seriously. We have more to do, but we will keep working on it.”
On drunk driving arrests in the league and whether there’s an alcohol problem: “We have to go beyond telling [players] or telling executives. We have to do a better job of educating people in the NFL. There are services available, but more importantly, use them.” Goodell added that it’s important as players and as citizens in the community.
On playing 18 games, rather than 16: “Fans’ reaction to the quality of the preseason is important. We need to [do it] collectively. We’ll continue to evaluate that. Every player I’ve talked to say they feel better this part of the year than they ever have and that’s a result of collective bargaining.”
On teaching proper tackling technique at an early age and reemphasizing it: “The No. 1 issue is to take the head out of the game. There are several theories. The helmet is better, they feel safer. The facemask. We have stressed the strike zone and we have seen a dramatic change over the last couple of years.”
On the relationship with the NFLPA (he had to have seen the Wall Street Journal story on power shifting to players): “We’re spending most of our time dealing with issues we’ve already dealt with. Collusion, HGH, commissioner discipline — these are things that have been resolved and are in the [collective bargaining agreement] document. We need to focus on, how do we work together to make the game better? We have to find solutions in the best interests of the game.”
On being the least popular man in New Orleans this week because of bounty penalties he handed down to the Saints: “I couldn’t feel more welcome here. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade … a voodoo doll,” he joked. “The last couple of nights, I’ve been out with a lot of the people I worked with after the [Hurricane] Katrina tragedy and we all reflected on how well we worked together. … I understand the fans’ loyalty is to the team. They had no part in this . They were completely innocent. I support their passion.”