NEW ORLEANS — Roger Goodell arrived in enemy territory and stood his ground. The NFL commissioner issued his state-of-the-league address on Friday, and among his remarks was that he has felt welcome in New Orleans.
Restaurants and bars are plastered with signs that suggest service to Goodell would be refused, nearly a year after the league announced discipline in response to a bounty system perpetrated by the New Orleans Saints. Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was named as the system’s mastermind, and other suspensions were issued, although some were later lifted.
Although Goodell joked about New Orleans’s reaction to his arrival, he emphasized that a bounty system was indeed in place — and that discipline was necessary.
“That is bad for the players, for the game, and I think the message is incredibly clear, and I don’t believe that bounties will be part of football going forward,” he said. “. . . As it relates to the regrets, I think my biggest regret is that we aren’t recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game, to make the game safer.”
Goodell also took a veiled shot at comments made a day earlier by DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association. Smith highlighted player safety in his own news conference and shared survey results that suggested that 78 percent of NFL players don’t trust their team’s medical staff. Goodell said he was “disappointed” in the survey’s findings but also seemed surprised that union officials didn’t bring up the results in a four-hour meeting last week.
“Several players were there. Several owners were there,” he said. “They did raise the issue of making sure we have the proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. That was news to me as of yesterday.”
Goodell also said he was confident the NFL would begin testing for human growth hormone before the 2013 season and discussions are ongoing about modifying the league’s game schedule. One of the primary questions, he said, is whether four preseason games are necessary. He also didn’t rule out expanding the regular season schedule to 18 games.
“The fans’ reaction to the quality of preseason is a big concern,” he said. “. . . If we wanted to implement an 18-game schedule, we could have done that in the prior [collective bargaining agreement]. The ownership and management agreed that we would do that collectively, and we would consider and balance the player health and safety issues with that. So, we’ll continue to evaluate that.”
Goodell said changes to training camp and practice sessions, agreed to in the most recent CBA, which ended the league’s lockout in July 2011, have been popular among players. He said several have approached him and said they feel better at this time of year than they had before the changes, which put restrictions on the number and length of practices.