In December, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell signed a contract extension worth up to $200 million that will keep him at the top of the league through 2024.
When Goodell took over for Paul Tagliabue in 2006, Forbes valued only five NFL teams at above $1 billion. Today they all are, with the Vikings having more than tripled in value from $720 million then to $2.4 billion at the start of this season.
And while the league remains the most watched sport in the country, by a gigantic margin, Goodell said in an interview he knows it has a number of issues that must be dealt with.
"We're 37 out of the top 50 [viewed] shows [in the United States in 2017], which 10 years ago I think we were six or eight out of the top 50 shows. From our standpoint, the NFL viewership is still dominant and will continue to be dominant," Goodell said this past week. "We believe it's because of the great game and the appeal that we have to such a large audience.
"As one network executive said to me, prior to the season, you have defied gravity for several years. The only content that has gone up [is the NFL] and we're still doing incredibly well."
For years the most controversial issue in the NFL has been the league's handling of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the effect that playing football has on players' brains.
But in 2017 another big issue jumped to the forefront, as dozens of players, following Colin Kaepernick's lead from the previous year, decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. The protests angered large numbers of the league's fanbase, who viewed it as disrespectful to the American flag and military members.
On Tuesday, the NFL announced Let's Listen Together, a committee made of owners and players dedicated to social justice issues.
"We live in times where, particularly for something that gets the exposure that the NFL does, that there are lots of [viewpoints]," Goodell said. "We understand that people have different perspective on that, and we respect that. First and foremost we respect our country, respect our military, and those are things that we all believe in. We also wanted to certainly understand what our players were talking about and what they were so committed to in trying to improve their communities.
"Ownership wanted to support them in those efforts. We have always encouraged our players to stand for the national anthem, and we believe they should, and we believe we've given them a platform now — with ownership support — that I think is going to be able to do the kind of things they've wanted to do."
Goodell added that player safety is the top priority for the league.
"We have put a tremendous amount of focus both in trying to prevent [brain] injuries from occurring — we have done that through rules and equipment — and we're also trying to address with respect to research and what we can do to make sure that we understand all there is about traumatic brain injuries and what we can do to prevent it," he said.
Stadium landed Super Bowl
In April 2012 when the Vikings' future in Minnesota was in doubt, Goodell flew in to meet with Gov. Mark Dayton. A few weeks later, the legislation was approved for what would become U.S. Bank Stadium.
When asked if the Vikings would have moved without the new stadium, Goodell said he wasn't sure.
"The good news is I don't have to spend my days thinking about that," he said. "The community stepped up. They built a facility that I think everyone is proud of. … I think everyone looks back and, as difficult and as long as the process was, it was well worth it and everybody wins. That's what we're really hoping for."
Goodell did say that there's no question the Super Bowl would not be here if it wasn't for the new stadium.
"I think it was critically important because that's our stage," he said. "We want that to be the highest possible standards, and I think the new stadium that was built in Minnesota is an extraordinary facility and one that we're proud to have the Super Bowl in. I think it will show not just a great football game but it will show how a community comes together and gets a facility like that built. We think that's a very positive message to go around globally that the Minnesota community is a can-do community."
And when it comes to the planning and execution around the game itself, he had nothing but positive things to say about the city and host committee.
"The Vikings and the Minnesota community have been absolutely spectacular. They have raised the bar," Goodell said. "We see it from the host committee to the business community. Richard Davis, Doug Baker, Maureen [Bausch], they have just done an extraordinary job getting ready for this Super Bowl."
Goodell and his family were in attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium two weeks ago for the Vikings' incredible comeback victory over the Saints.
"It was one of the greatest experiences I have had with my family," he said. "To be able to share that with the Vikings fans, my family, it was just a magical game. It's something we will always remember as a family."
• Cole Kramer, the outstanding quarterback who led Eden Prairie to the Class 6A state championship last year, has accepted a scholarship offer from the Gophers. He completed 72 of 101 passes for 1,191 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2017 and hasn't thrown an interception the past two seasons.
• The last time a team won back-to-back Super Bowls was the Patriots after the 2003 and '04 seasons. They have a chance to do it again here Sunday, and just like in February 2005 they have to beat the Eagles to do so.
• The Vikings have five draft picks this year. They are missing their fourth-round pick, which went to Philadelphia in the Sam Bradford trade, and their seventh-round pick, which went to Seattle for Tramaine Brock.
• ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects the Vikings taking Texas tackle Connor Williams in the first round, 30th overall, even though Williams missed seven games in 2017 because of sprained ligaments in his left knee.
• After the Vikings' loss at Philadelphia, teams that play home games in a dome are now 0-13 outdoors in conference championship games. Since moving indoors, the Vikings have played three NFC Championship Games outdoors and lost by a combined 96-17.
• You wonder if Gary Trent Jr., like former Apple Valley teammate Tyus Jones, will leave Duke after one season. NBADraft.net does not have Trent as a 2018 pick but has him rated No. 18 overall in 2019.
• An update on the three Gophers men's basketball recruits for next season: Cretin-Derham Hall's Daniel Oturu is averaging 18.9 points and 12.4 rebounds; Orono's Jarvis Thomas Omersa is averaging 20.0 points and 11.6 rebounds; and DeLaSalle's Gabe Kalscheur is averaging 20.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.
• The Gophers have only three games left at home — vs. Nebraska, No. 6 Michigan State and Iowa — and five road games, at Iowa, No. 25 Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and No. 3 Purdue.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • email@example.com