SBD/February 4, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Goodell Stresses Player Safety Remains Top Priority In State Of The League Address

Goodell says the NFL's safety focus is to "take the head out of the game"
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave his annual State of the League address Friday in New Orleans, and "topics of player health and improved safety dominated" his 45-minute address, according to Howard Fendrich of the AP. Goodell "often sounded like someone seeking to point out that players or others are at fault for some of the sport’s problems -- and need to help fix them." Goodell said, "I’ll stand up. I’ll be accountable. It’s part of my responsibility. I’ll do everything. But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it" (AP, 2/2). Goodell added, "The changes we are making are having a positive impact. The game is exciting, competitive, tough and safer. We are making the game better while also evolving to a health and safety culture. That is a big priority." Goodell said the agenda for the Competition Committee will include "eliminating certain low blocks, further taking the head out of the game and expanding the standards for the quality of our playing fields" (NFL Network, 2/1). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur noted the "majority" of questions during Goodell's 22-question press conference were "regarding safety and concussions, and he responded with his usual platitudes and boilerplate." Goodell at times "sounded like a man trying to be the health and safety commissioner of a league that can be neither healthy nor safe." At others, he "merely sounded like a man making public statements that would one day be entered into evidence in the class-action lawsuits that have been launched against the NFL by fully one-third of their 12,000 living retired players" (NATIONAL POST, 2/2).

SAFETY STILL TOP OF MIND: Goodell said player health and safety "has always been a priority in the NFL," and the league will "continue to make it a priority." He said, "I welcome the president’s comments because it has been a priority and we want to make sure that people understand what we are doing to make our game safer, not just in the NFL, but throughout sports. The changes we are making in the NFL I think are changing all of sports" (NFL Network, 2/1). Goodell said that the league is "considering creating a 'strike zone' -- not too high, not too low -- in order to take head shots out of the game and protect the knees of players." He said, "It's important for us to find, is there a better way of doing what we're doing? We are focused on that with the competition committee. … There's no question that we're trying to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The No. 1 issue is, take the head out of the game" (L.A. TIMES, 2/2). CBS' Phil Simms said of the NFL, “They’ve changed the rules to make the game safer, and they’ve changed at every single level. That means it’s even changing in Pop Warner. … It’s going to take a few years, but we’re going to see a new generation of players that get through the NFL, and their health is going to be so much better than some of the generations we’ve seen before.” CBS' Shannon Sharpe added, “I think 10, 15 years from now, all the players will sit back and say, ‘You know what? I didn’t like what the commissioner did at the time, but it was the right thing to do’” ("Face The Nation," CBS, 2/3). NBC’s Bob Costas said Goodell is “well-intentioned” as to making the game safer, and he “has made significant positive strides” towards that goal. But Costas added, “No matter how hard Goodell and company try and no matter how sincere they are (to make the game safer) ... the way football is played, even legal hits are frightening” ("Meet the Press,” NBC, 2/3).

TRUST WITH MEDICAL STAFFS: The NFLPA on Thursday announced a study showing 78% of players do not trust their teams’ medical staffs. Goodell noted the league met last week with NFLPA officials for several hours and the union did not bring up the results. He said, “They did raise the issue of making sure that we have the proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. … I’m disappointed because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world" (NFL Network, 2/1). In San Diego, Michael Gehlken reported Goodell "plans to allow the NFL's collectively bargained Joint Committee of Player Safety and Welfare decide what becomes" of Chargers' physician David Chao. His decision came one day after multiple NFLPA execs "singled out" Chao, "discrediting his ability to properly treat players in light of recent malpractice lawsuits and a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation regarding his office's record-keeping." Chargers players have "defended Chao since the NFLPA's comments that NFL players 'deserve better' than him" (UTSANDIEGO.com, 2/1).

MAKING CHANGES TO ROONEY RULE: Goodell noted the league will “take steps to ensure more diversity in our hiring practices.” None of the eight head coaching vacancies were filled by a minority despite the presence of the Rooney Rule, and Goodell said, “The results this year were simply not acceptable.” He added, “We have to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. That’s going to have to come from conversations with a lot of people in this league" (NFL Network, 2/1). He added yesterday, "The outcome we’re looking for is to have the best possible talent, everyone have an opportunity and to be as diverse as possible as an organization. ... We’re going to look at increased symposiums where we can pick out the top 15 or 20 coaches and GMs. Have them all at a symposium where they can work on their skills, they can interact with each other, and we can really try to accelerate their development. … These are all things I think can help us in the long term. But it’s a long-term commitment, and we have to look at it that way.” Goodell noted the rule could be expanded to include coordinators, but said, "I’m not sure that in and of itself is a solution. I think we’re going to have to address this on multiple issues, but that is on the table for sure” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning, ESPN Radio, 2/3). But in St. Louis, Jim Thomas noted Ravens RB coach Wilbert Montgomery "doesn't necessarily think the system is broke." He said, "We all have bad years. ... In this case here, it was a bad year for minorities to get hired. So it's what you do to bounce back from that" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/3).

THINKING ABROAD: It was announced Friday that the two games being held in London next year -- 49ers-Jaguars and Steelers-Vikings -- have sold out. Goodell said NFL owners “understand that this is a market where we need to be more active and that we need to continue to grow our game.” Goodell said of playing another regular-season game in Mexico, “We would like to be back there.” However, he did not offer any time frame for a return. Goodell said of creating an 18-game schedule, "We’re always going to evaluate our season structure. We’ve been very open on the fact that we want to address our preseason. The fans reaction to the quality of the preseason is a big concern." He added, "We will continue to figure out how to improve on our season’s structure but will not compromise if we can’t do it in a safe and effective way” (NFL Network, 2/1).
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