NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a 45-minute press conference earlier this week at Super Bowl XLVI and shared his candid thoughts on a number of key issues that he and the league are currently facing. Here are the most noteworthy questions and answers from that session.
Could you clarify your current view on the possible relocation of a team or teams versus expansion as the means to get a franchise to Los Angeles, if and when expansion is a possibility on what timetable would you see that and by how many teams would you possibly expand?
Goodell: “I will tell you that we have not talked about expansion in the league at all. It has not been on our agenda. It is not something that we focused on with our membership, and I don’t see that in the foreseeable future. We want to keep our teams where they are. We believe that it is healthier for the league in the long term. We’re working to get stadiums built – make sure to do whatever we can to be certain that those teams are successful in those communities. So we will continue our efforts on that front. We have been successful there and we will hopefully be able to continue that.”
You’ve long held that you won’t do a deal in Los Angeles until it is the right deal for the NFL and the right deal for the city. There are two deals out there, competing sites. Is Los Angeles asking too much right now?
Goodell: “I don’t look at it that way. I look at this as a partnership. We’ve got to find a way to make it work for both parties, as you stated correctly. That’s my position. I believe that there’s a way to make the partnership work. We’ve proven it throughout the country where you can get stadiums built. They are great for the communities, they are great for the team and they are great for the League overall. You are seeing it right here in Indianapolis. We have a terrific facility here. They are now hosting the Super Bowl, and they’ll be on the global stage this Sunday. There are great things that can come from working together, compromising and finding the right solutions. Maybe not everyone is going to be happy but, at the end of the day, you can be successful”
All arrows are pointing up for the League. You have a 10-year labor agreement. You just signed record TV deals. Absent any dramatic groundswell from fans in Los Angeles for a team, what is the urgency to return to Los Angeles? Is there any urgency, and why does the League want to be back there?
Goodell: “Well, you know I don’t characterize our efforts. I think it is important for us to make smart decisions. We would like to be back in Los Angeles if we can do it correctly. There are a lot of issues that have to be balanced there. We’ve had a priority to make sure we get that long-term labor agreement, that we get our long-term television agreements. I think that foundation can be very helpful to us in coming back to Los Angeles. We see that now we have a runway of 10 years. We know what our labor situation is. We know what our television situation is. That should give us the foundation to make smart decisions and try to find a good solution in Los Angeles.
The AP published a story [this week] in which former players depicted a culture of indifference on the part of the league and teams toward concussions and other injuries. As one former player put it, ‘They are just waiting until we die.’ Can you please respond to that?
Goodell: “I think our former players deserve the respect for helping us build this game. We have done a great deal in trying to address issues that are specific to our former players. We will always make sure player health and safety is the No. 1 priority in the NFL. In the recent collective bargaining agreement we committed over a billion dollars to our retired players, including over $600 million dollars just to the legacy fund for improvements in pensions. We will continue to address medical issues to make sure we can address the population of our retired players. We will not quit. We are not done yet. We are going to continue to do what we possibly can to help our retired players, the current players and future players by making the game safer. We will do that with rules. We will do that with improving the equipment and we will do it by making sure that we pioneer research that’s going to make sure we understand all there is about brain injuries and brain disease; and make sure that we are being responsible as leaders.”
How well did the league understand the danger of concussions prior to the changes that were made in the last couple of years?
Goodell: “Everything we have done on concussions going back to 1994 when we created the first concussion committee, we have published all of that information. We make that available for medical journals and the public to absorb, study and debate, quite frankly. One of the things we have here is that we don’t know a lot about brain injury and about the brain itself. We’re all learning, the medical world is learning, the scientific world is learning and the NFL is learning. What I’m proud of is that the NFL is leading the way. They are embracing this and bringing awareness to this issue. When I was in high school, I suffered a concussion playing baseball. The treatment was simply flashing a flashlight in my eye in the middle of the night. What we’ve done now is made this a significant issue and it’s a serious injury that needs to be treated seriously. That has been a cultural change we have made, not just in football, but across all sports and even beyond sports. I made this point last night that we are sharing our information, our data, and making changes even in the United States military, where they are treating concussions. That is a huge issue for our military. They are using a lot of the knowledge and information that we’ve pioneered to make changes in the military to better protect our troops.”
With so many states struggling with budget deficits, can you continue to count on taxpayer dollars to help build stadiums?
Goodell: “I think we all know the struggles, whether its state budgets, city budgets or people’s personal income. They are all challenges for the league going forward. That is one of the reasons we created our G4 program and incentives and our Collective Bargaining Agreement; to help build these stadiums. (The stadiums) are complex, they are expensive and we have to be creative. What I am proud of that the league has come up with are the new financing mechanisms like G4 to help bridge that gap, find ways to help communities build that private partnership so we can get those stadiums built, which are good for the communities, good for the teams and most of all great for the fans.”
Are you concerned at all that this league has become too pass heavy? We hear a lot of complaints from the defensive players about the rule changes that has put them at a disadvantage.
Goodell: “We had this discussion with several coaches just this week, actually. I think that what happens in this league is that you make changes in the game, and then there is an adjustment, and then the other side of the ball catches up. We may be in that situation where the defensive side will catch up to some of the changes we made on the offensive side of the ball recently. That’s something that’s happened throughout our history. It’s part of what we relentlessly have to do. How do we improve the game? How do we make those changes that will keep the game exciting? We like the idea, and I think fans like the idea of high-scoring football, but most importantly, they like competitive football, and that’s what we had this year. I don’t think anybody could tell you that the quality of the game wasn’t outstanding this year. Some people might like more defense. Some people might like more offense. But, the competitiveness of this league is at an incredibly important level and something that we’re going to continue to try to figure out how we keep the competitiveness of the league.
It seems that the NFL is getting more and more into social media with all the tweeting happening from the Pro Bowl and the social media command center here in Indy this week. How do you think that has affected the Super Bowl this week and the NFL in general?
Goodell: “Well, it's the way our world is going. The reality is we have tried to embrace technology and be more innovative. I think our players, obviously, have done that. Our teams have done that. We want to find new ways for our fans to engage with football, with the NFL, and clearly social media is a great way to do that. In addition, it's a great way for fans to engage with one another. We are finding that is a huge plus for us, and I think one of the reasons why our game continues to grow. Football brings people together. We are going to see that on Sunday. The world will be watching right here in Indianapolis, and people will be gathered around their television sets with their family and their friends enjoying football. If they do that on social media or other technologies or watch it on television, it's all okay by me as long as they do it.”