NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held his annual state of the league press conference on Friday and in case you missed it, below is a transcript of what he said as provided by the league.
“Good morning and welcome to Super Bowl 50. It sounds good. We’re glad you’re all here. Let me start by congratulating the two teams, the Broncos and the Panthers. It’s a terrific matchup with the number-one seeds. We look forward to the great game on Sunday. Sunday will close another season of competitive excellence. We had a record number of close games and so many wonderful and exciting comebacks. The credit goes to the coaches and the players and the staffs of all 32 teams. They present the quality competition that keeps the fans on the edge of their seats.
“I want to recognize and thank NFL fans everywhere for their incredible passion and support of our great game. Thanks to everyone in San Francisco. This community has been wonderful. To Santa Clara, to the Bay Area Host Committee, to the York family, to Mark Davis, you all have done a terrific job this week. We are thrilled to be in your beautiful community and glad to celebrate Super Bowl 50 right here. As you know we have been honoring the history of the Super Bowl this past season. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us that made pro football and the Super Bowl so compelling.
“Super Bowl 50 has been a great platform for us to celebrate our traditions, our history, but it’s also been important for us to look forward. There was a session this morning with all the people, photographers, fans, media that attended all 50 Super Bowls. That included owner Norma Hunt, someone who has meant a great deal to our league and to me personally, including the late, great Lamar Hunt. Norma, I think you’re right over here, thank you for being here. We’re always glad to have you. Let’s keep the streak going.
“Looking ahead, the future is bright but we have lots of work to do. Our agenda starts with focusing on growing and improving the game in every area. It always starts, and there is no higher priority, than player safety. We will continue to look at rules and technology to protect our players. From a competitive standpoint, this season, more games were decided by one score than ever in our history. That led to great competition and the average margin of victory lower than any time in our history. We’ll continue to try to make the game more exciting as we did this last year with the extra point. The Rams returning to their home of Los Angeles with an incredible stadium complex that will exceed all expectations of our fans in the entertainment capital of the world. We believe this will be transformational, not just for the Rams, not just for the Los Angeles community but for the NFL.
“We will continue to focus on innovation and expand fan interest. Reaching the largest possible audience is fundamental to our success and that will not change. Technology provides us with capabilities to go direct to our fans. Technology that we didn’t have before. We can do it on all platforms. Our recent Thursday Night Football deal that we announced earlier this week describes and reflects exactly what we mean by a tricast: a broadcast network broadcasting the game, the NFL Network simulcasting and being able to deliver and stream that same broadcast to technology and platforms all over the globe. Growing the game also means building our success internationally. Our games in London have been a tremendous success. We’ve already sold out all three games for 2016, which is for the third consecutive year. We will work hard to continue to expand our game on a global basis.
“A third key priority will be continuing to embrace our challenges and leadership responsibility. Tomorrow, we will be at Stanford Business School for a tech summit. The focus is on the future of our game, the stadium and fan experience and the future of our athletes. Over the past two days, we held a Women’s Summit. It was focused on: How do we get young girls participating in sports? So we can help mold, shape and encourage leadership in the next generation. Off the field, we will continue to pursue the highest professional standards that we all expect of executives, commissioners, coaches, players and everyone associated with the NFL. This is exemplified by the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. That will be announced tomorrow night at the NFL Honors. We have all three of this year’s finalists here today. Anquan Boldin, if you’d stand up, Eli Manning and Benjamin Watson. To sum up our approach, I would say this: get better. That’s our goal. In everything we do and every day we work, we will work to get better in every way. That’s what our teams do and that’s what the league will do. That’s what I love about this job and why I look forward to coming to work every day. We’re glad you’re all here and I’d be happy to take your questions.”
Now that the Chargers have agreed in principle to a deal in Los Angeles in Stan Kroenke’s stadium, what is your assessment of the potential for San Diego and Oakland to keep their teams?
“The first thing, I’m glad that you no longer have to ask about when we’re going to get a team. We can talk about San Diego and Oakland. It is very much a priority for us. We want to work to try to keep our teams where they are. As I said earlier this year, relocation is a difficult process. That was true in St. Louis where we have a number of great fans, but it’s something from a business standpoint that becomes a reality. My issue is, and my pledge to Dean Spanos, to Mark Davis, to the mayor of Oakland and mayor of San Diego is to do everything possible we can to support them, to try to get the right kind of facilities long-term in both of those markets. Over the past year, we’ve seen each of those communities express that they don’t have proper facilities for the long term for their teams. They’ve also indicated that they have not been able to come up with the right solution. Our pledge is to try to help them get that done. I think it’s great that Dean Spanos and his family said we want to make this work in San Diego. They have an incredibly attractive option in Los Angeles, but they decided we’re going to go and try to make this work in San Diego. We will do everything we can to support them. The same is true for Mark Davis. Mark Davis has a lot of options. The league supports both these teams, but we’re working very hard with not only the teams but the communities to find a solution that works for everybody. This has to work for the community and it has to work for the teams long term.
It’s been 10 years since the league has been back in Mexico City. The fan base, as you know, is huge in Mexico, largest attendance in history. Today, there are thousands of Mexican NFL fans waiting to see if Commissioner Goodell will have some good news of what is the plan of the NFL for Mexico in the upcoming season.
“Well, John, I know I’ve disappointed you over the last 10 years, but, today, I’m not. We are coming back to Mexico next season. We’re excited. We’ll have a game on November 21 between the Raiders and the Texans. We’re very excited about being back. As you know, we have a tremendous fan following down in Mexico. We believe it’ll be a tremendous success and we’re excited about being there. To all of our fans down there, we’re happy to be able to give the right answer this year.”
You mentioned earlier about player safety. I’m wondering what the league is doing as far as the concussion issue is concerned?
“Well, Jim, the concussion issue is something we’ve been focused on for several decades. We learn more from science. We learn more by our own experience and we have made great progress. We continue to make rule changes to our game to make the game safer and protect our players from unnecessary injury, from acts that we see can lead to increased probability of an injury. We’ve had 39 of those rule changes in the last 10 years, the most active period, I think, in that area. We’ve also made tremendous improvements with equipment. There’s technology that’s coming in. There’ll be a new helmet coming out this season that comes from a GE/NFL/Under Armour challenge which, I think, is going to be a very positive step in trying to get better protection. We have also seen it in equipment. The same challenge resulted in one of the winners being a new technology that goes under artificial turf which will take out the impact. We have a large number of concussions that occur from just the head on the turf. We’re seeing a lot of great changes that are leading to positive changes that are making the game safer. We are also investing aggressively in research so that we can get the answers to perplexing problems that we don’t all have, including science. But we’re not going to wait for science. We’re going to get out and make changes in our game. We’ve seen the benefits of that. We’ve seen the positive changes.”
In light of the on-field incidents involving Odell Beckham Jr. and Vontaze Burfict that led to suspensions, and the players union often challenging disciplinary decisions, do you envision any formal system for in-game ejections of players for egregious offenses or acts? And also, what do you see as your role for in-game discipline in the future?
“Well, Barry, on your first one, I’ve already spoken to the Competition Committee. I’ve spoken to many members of the league. I’ve spoken to players. I believe that the league should pursue a policy where if there are two personal fouls in a game, there’s an automatic ejection of the player. I believe that’s consistent with what we believe are safety issues, but I also believe it’s consistent with what we believe are standards of sportsmanship that we emphasize. We should take that out of the hands of the officials when it gets to that point. They’ll obviously have to throw the flag, but when they do, we’ll look to see if we can reach an agreement on the conditions of which they’ll be ejected. That’s a Competition Committee matter. We’ll discuss it further with the Players Association in February at the combine, as well as the membership in March. I’ve recommended it already to the competition committee to at least consider. I think it’s consistent with our goals to try and bring sportsmanship back into the kind of play to keep the focus on the game, keep the focus on the great play that is happening.”
Why do you think it’s important for kids to play sports? And I’m a girl playing tackle football, and do you think if I’m good enough, I could play in the NFL someday?
“Well, the answer to your last question is yes. If you’re good enough, you can play in the NFL. I believe sports are incredibly important. I speak from a personal standpoint, and I spoke about this yesterday at our Women’s Summit. The values that you get from playing sports, what you learn about yourself, what you learn about interacting with others, about teamwork, about discipline, about getting knocked down and being able to pick yourself up, about perseverance, those are values that are going to take you well beyond sports. Whether you become a professional athlete or not, I believe those values will help you in life and I rely on them every day in my job. I think you’ll rely on the same kind of values. So I’m glad you’re playing football, but I’m also glad you’re getting those values that will help you no matter what your career.”
If you could tell us your reaction to how quickly the tickets sold out for the International Series games in 2016 and how that might impact additional games in the future or even possibly a franchise in the U.K.?
“Well, obviously we’re very excited about the reaction to the three games. I’m not surprised based on the past three years. We’ve seen this every year. Every time we give our U.K. fans, and I think this is true on a global basis, an opportunity to engage with football, the fans want more, and the key to our strategy several years ago was to give them the real thing, regular season games, and I think that’s worked. I think fans have appreciated that. Every year I go back to London, I see the fans are more sophisticated. They understand the game more. They’re following it more. We expect a big audience will be in the U.K. watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, Monday morning I think their time. That’s exciting for us. We are considering playing more games in the U.K. It’s a balancing act with our schedule. As you know, we’re playing in two different stadiums this year, so that gives us a little bit more flexibility in how we do that, but I believe the future will see more games in the U.K. As far as a franchise, let’s continue to grow. Let’s continue to see that excitement and enthusiasm, passion and support continue to develop. If it does, I think that’s a realistic possibility.”
The NFL has enormous popularity among the Latino fans, but what can the league do to promote more of the hiring and development of more Hispanic coaches, players, and how has (Panthers Head Coach) Ron Rivera’s particular journey to Super Bowl 50 made an example of what one can accomplish?
“Well, I’m a big fan of Coach Rivera. I’ve known Coach for a long time as a player and as an assistant coach in developing his career, and one of the things that always I respected about Coach is he was always looking to improve. He was always looking to gain experience, so that he had the skillset, the experience, to be able to become a head coach. He obviously did that. He’s now playing in the Super Bowl and I spoke to him a couple weeks ago and he’s excited about that, and he should be. It’s rewarding for him, but I know he’s focused on trying to win on Sunday. But I think the basis of your question and the basis to me of the response is to make sure that we have diversity as a big part of what we do and how we develop our talent. We want to attract, we want to retain and we want to develop great talent, and that’s in the coaching level, that’s in the front office. Where we can get great talent, we’re going to be better off as a league, so we think diversity strengthens us. I think the success of Coach Rivera, hopefully that inspired some young people who want to get into coaching that have Latino backgrounds. That would be great for our sport. Hopefully, the game in Mexico will inspire people to get engaged more in NFL football. Those are all very positive developments.”
I’ve just come from the NFL Women’s Summit, where yesterday you announced the Rooney Rule for women in executive positions, but your largest and most visible group of women working for the league are the cheerleaders, who complain of pay and equity and low wages. What are you doing to make sure that these women are fairly compensated now, and also do you see a mixed message in the way you’re addressing your female employees in the front office and the way you are dealing with this other group of women who work for you?
“No, I don’t. These are employees of each club. We encourage policies that properly compensate all employees and provide the correct benefits. A number of our clubs have, obviously, been focused on this and trying to address that. We have discussed this with our clubs over the last several years. It’s not a new issue for us. It’s something that we think should be done so that everyone is compensated fairly, and I think the cheerleaders perform a very valuable function for us. They are very active in the communities. I respect what they do. They do a lot of charitable work and they are passionate about our game. So, I think they should be properly compensated, and I am encouraging our clubs and discussing that with our clubs on a regular basis.”
As you mentioned earlier, the NFL tomorrow hosts its first future technology startup competition, in effect, a one-day innovation lab. With innovations one of your strongest priorities, can you envision the league spearheading in-house innovation labs in major tech centers like New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, even London and Dallas to further push the league’s technology efforts into untapped areas where innovation can truly occur?
“If I understand your question correctly, I don’t believe that we’re going to try to do all the innovation ourselves. One of the great things is that we have great partners. We have great people who know how to innovate in certain areas – use technology that may be used in other areas. I mentioned earlier our GE Challenge, which reached out on a global basis to find people who may be using certain technologies, certain materials that can make our equipment safer, and our helmets to absorb the impact differently than they currently do. If we can use that technology, maybe used in a different area in our game, we benefit from that. So, we wanted to innovate by making sure that we’re reaching out to the best innovators in the world, people who know how to use technology, people that can adapt the technology to our game. We’ll certainly work with them. We,’ll encourage them. But I think that’s what makes the NFL special is that we constantly try to improve and we get the best people in the world to help us do that.”
Earlier this week, you said during “spot checks” that no violations of the PSI rule were found. What actually constitutes a violation now? Did you find anything under 12.5? In the spirit of getting better, doesn’t this whole thing demand some transparency in terms of what the numbers were and what the standards will be going forward?
“A couple of things. One, as you know, at the beginning of the season, we made changes to our protocols of how we were going to manage the footballs. That’s how they were going to be managed from the moment they were taken into the stadium to right after the game. We have implemented that. As part of that – and it happens in most of our game operations areas – we conduct random checks. We make sure that clubs understand that we will look at that type of procedure and make sure that there are no violations of that. We did that in a very limited basis, but we don’t disclose all the specifics on that because it’s meant as a deterrent. If you tell everybody how many times you’re checking and which games you’re checking, it’s not much of a deterrent. It’s a deterrent when they think that game may be being checked. It’s also important that the data that was collected in that was not data for research. It was collected just to see there was a violation. Our people never found a violation. There was never an accusation of a violation by any other club. So, we’re comfortable that this policy, this rule, was followed by our clubs and we do this across the board in our game operations. There are many areas of our game operations that require that type of thing. Second of all, we did a great deal of research, scientific analysis last year. That was part of the whole appeal hearing. There was Ted Wells’ report, where he went and got independent people to study this type of issue, so the intent of what we were doing was not a research project. It was to make sure that our policies were followed, just as we do in other areas of our game operations.”
In looking back at a media release a few days after the AFC Championship Game a year ago, there were a lot of details about the investigation being led by Ted Wells and Jeff Pash, nearly 40 interviews have been conducted that you had hired an investigatory firm. There were also a lot of details given in the Mueller report and in the previous Ted Wells investigation of the Miami Dolphins. I’m curious, in light of the allegations against Peyton Manning and several other players, what details on that investigation you can share. And if there aren’t details, why the league isn’t pursuing that matter?
“Well Tom, we are. We take every allegation and violation of our policies and procedures, particularly when it pertains to safety, very seriously. When these allegations first came out, we immediately began our own investigation. We were clear of making sure we were working with the other sports that would be involved with the WADA, World Anti-Doping Association, to make sure we were getting all the pertinent information. We will work with law enforcement if they’re involved, but we will also continue our own investigations and working proactively with everyone to make sure we’re taking this seriously, that we find out the conclusions. When we find out the facts, we’ll share them as we have in the past. We want to make sure that we’re transparent. We do not have an independent investigation going on at this point other than working with the other leagues and WADA. If we feel that that’s necessary at some point, we may do that. At this point, we don’t.”
First off, does St. Louis have an NFL future? And secondly, given Stan Kroenke’s reluctance to meet with the task force in St. Louis to the point where even Eric Grubman said the league was negotiating a financial term sheet for the stadium, how can the league say that the Rams met the relocation guidelines?
“Well a couple things, Jim. First on your initial point. I spoke with the Governor just a couple days after the Houston meetings and I told him when things settle down and you’re prepared, let’s talk about the future of NFL football in St. Louis. We have a tremendous number of fans there, as you know. It’s a great community and if there’s something that can be worked out and that we can develop a stadium that can allow a team to be successful there, that’s something we should consider. And I told him that. On your second question, negotiations – I did this for the league for many years as you know. Frequently, we would negotiate on behalf of ownership a stadium arrangement. We have a great deal of experience in it. We also have different clubs that take different approaches. Owners don’t always get involved with task forces or with public officials. There was a process in St. Louis which was detailed in their lease and was required. They went through that in excruciating detail. In fact, in several cases, there were changes to that process. There was an acknowledgement that the current facilities were not suitable long term for an NFL team. There were also acknowledgements that they didn’t get solutions that would allow that to occur, Jim. So that’s ultimately a judgment made by the 32 clubs. Clearly, the 32 clubs made that judgment that they met the relocation guidelines. Part of that also is the kind of project you have in the market that you’re going to, which obviously was attractive from an ownership standpoint also. The same was true for Oakland and San Diego. I think the ownership, by giving an option to San Diego and Oakland, made the same determination that they do meet the relocation guidelines. The fortunate thing is, both the ownership of the Chargers and the Raiders were trying to get something done in their current market.”
Given that medical marijuana or recreational marijuana is legal in many states including Colorado, do you foresee any adjustment to that policy or any review of that part drug policy?
“We always review our drug policy. That is something that our medical professionals do on a regular basis. We have had discussions with them in the past about that, not recently. They have opposed that. We are not restricted obviously by the state laws. It’s an NFL policy and we believe it’s the correct policy, for now, in the best interest of our players and the long-term health of our players. I don’t foresee a change in that clearly in the short term but we’ll continue to be in touch with our medical personnel. If that changes, we’ll discuss it.”
Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon recently applied for reinstatement from an indefinite suspension. It marked his one-year anniversary this week. We know the process according to the policy, but can you give any details on the timetable, what’s next and whether you will be the one to make the final judgment on whether he plays in 2016?
“Tony, a lot of things are going on right now. We did get the letter from Josh. The process is that we’ll go back and we’ll look at how he’s conducted himself over the last several months, what he’s done to make sure it’s consistent with the terms of a suspension and at some stage, we’ll have a report on that and I will engage with our people to understand where he is, where he’s been but most importantly where he’s going. When these things happen, it’s about trying to avoid them in the future. Our number one issue here is to prevent these things from happening. I’m hopeful that Josh understands that he’s going to have to conduct himself differently going forward to be a member of the NFL and to be representing the Cleveland Browns, or any team in the NFL. So, our job is to try to get people to understand that, try to make sure they live by the policies we have and ensure that this is what all of us in the league want, but also I think what the fans want. Our fans want our players playing by the same rules.”
We spent the better part of the last two years talking about commissioner discipline for off-field incidents. The need to investigate. You have made those changes. Johnny Manziel’s situation recently, your office has said you are aware and you are investigating. My first question is, what do you know about that situation and some of the claims that were made? Also this is starting to take on a different tone with his father saying that if he doesn’t get help, he is concerned for him. Does this situation make you want to say, ‘We need to do more to help these players, not just discipline and investigate, but to help these players, such as Johnny and some of the other guys that have these situations?’
“I have said this many times over the last year. There is a tremendous amount of focus, and I understand it, from the public and the media on discipline. That is a small part of our personal conduct policy. Our personal conduct policy is to try to prevent these incidents from happening. We have invested in education. We have gone through tremendous education with it. Everybody in the NFL. That includes the commissioner. Every player, every coach, every executive, everyone in the league office has gone through extensive education to understand the issues and to understand what to look for, including bystander awareness, so that you can prevent these issues from happening. That is what we all want to see. We have other services, including counseling and other matters that are available to players if they are struggling with any issue. This happens. We have 3,000 players a year. We have probably at least a half, maybe two-thirds that turn over in any given year. We have young people that may have issues that need to be addressed. We will always look to see how we can do that to try to help them make those adjustments, to try to help them deal with any issues they might have for their long-term safety. It is not just about playing in the NFL. These are young men who we respect, we admire, we are glad if they want to make this an NFL career, but they are young men first. They are young men that are going to lead long and healthy lives. We would like to encourage that and I think our policies have done that. If we can make it better and we can make changes to that, we will certainly engage in that dialogue.”
To be a bit more specific on the marijuana question, you said two years ago at the summit with Jack Welch that if there was more research done for medical marijuana for players, you would consider approving it. There has been a lot of research in the last couple years. Players like Jim McMahon and Kyle Turley have talked about how it has helped them. Where does the league stand on the issue of medical marijuana for players and ex-players?
“I don’t distinguish between the medical marijuana and marijuana issue in the context of my previous answer. Our medical professionals look at that. That is exactly what we talked to them about. I would assume that it would be used in a medical circumstance or if it is even in recreational, our medical professionals look at it in both ways and determine whether they think it is in the best interest to do that. Yes, I agree there has been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view. Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”
It seemed a couple years ago that the Pro Bowl was headed at least in the right direction with play improving, a much more watchable game, then certainly this year it looked like it headed in the opposite direction. Ratings were down, of course. Where it the Pro Bowl headed, and is it feasible that in the next couple of years that there will be no game and there will be more of a ceremonial feel to this honor?
“You know, and I am not going to speculate on where the Pro Bowl is going, but I was disappointed in what I saw on Sunday. I had raised this issue three or four years ago. We worked with a number of players to make changes in the game. They had a positive impact at least in the short term, but I didn’t see that this past week. I think we want to talk with more players about that, we want to talk to our coaches about it, we want to talk to our personnel about it. I think it is very important to have a stage in which you celebrate our great players for what they do on and off the field. We may have to think about that differently than we have in the past. I think our biggest standard has to be what we expect from the NFL and what our fans expect from the NFL. If it is not quality, and if it is not real competition that we can be proud of, then we have to do something different. That is my number-one priority right now. I am open to new ideas. I am open to how we do it. It is not the kind of game that I think we want to continue to have in its current format based on what we saw last week.”
I’m sure you’re familiar that there have been a lot of debates, litigation, things like that about (daily) fantasy football issues. I was wondering if you felt like that could be a threat to your growth model. And also to put a finer point on it, do you think that’s gambling? And could you give me the reason for your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on that?
“Well, I don’t make that determination. Each state makes that determination. We are obviously going to follow the law. We’re going to abide by that in every which way. I said before that I think as it relates to daily fantasy there needs to be more consumer protection. I want that for our fans. I think our fans deserve that. But the primary interest I have is in the integrity of the game. So, that’s why we’ve opposed sports gambling in the past. When it comes to daily fantasy, I think there’s a different issue here. You have mash-ups of players. There are different issues that are raised that are not raised with sports gambling or traditional sports gambling. But, we are obviously working with all officials in each state. We will cooperate fully, and we will also abide by the law. I think for our long-term growth, fantasy football is more than daily fantasy. Fantasy football is fun. It’s something that I think our fans love to enjoy, but we also make sure – we have to make sure – that we’re protecting our fans at all times.”
Are there any concerns that the cumulative effect of fewer contact practices may or has led to quality-of-play issues?
“I don’t. I believe that the quality of play has never been better in the NFL. I think you see it in the quality of the competition. I mentioned it upfront: We’ve never had closer games in our history. I think there are extraordinary individual performances, team performances. The comebacks were off-the-charts with excitement this year. So, I believe our league is incredibly competitive. But it is also something we watch, we follow. Our competition committee will look at that. I talk to a lot of coaches, talk to a lot of players. Coaches like to coach. Players like to play. So, limitations on that are not necessarily popular. I get it. But, I think the changes that we’ve made with the Players Association now five years ago have been very healthy for the game. They’ve been healthy for our players long-term and they’re making our game better. So, I believe we can make our game more exciting, and we can protect our players, and I think that’s a fundamental change which has been quite positive.”
DeMaurice Smith said yesterday that he was cautiously optimistic about completing a deal on changes to the system of player discipline and your role in it. Do you believe that such a deal could be coming in the foreseeable future and what is the middle ground between the Union seeking third-party arbitration under the Personal Conduct Policy and integrity of the game rules and your previous statements that you weren’t willing to have third-party arbitration there?
“Well Mark, one thing I know is not to negotiate in front of 5,000 people who don’t have a say in it, so I think what we will do is make sure that we continue the dialogue with the Players Association. That’s where these discussions belong. I said we’re open to changes in the way we do discipline, but we negotiated for a system in 2011. It was a system that was quite similar for decades prior to that in collective bargaining agreements prior to that. It is almost exactly the same when it comes to protecting the integrity of the game and the Commissioner’s authority. I am certainly open to that. The Chairman of the CEC (NFL Management Council Executive Committee), John Mara, is over here. We’ll continue the dialogue. If we can find changes, if we can improve that process, we will do that. And we have done that. We did it a year ago with our drug program, and I think there were very positive changes. We’ll continue to have that dialogue with the Union. I’ll go back to one other thing. When we put in our Personal Conduct Policy – which had a lot of input from our Players Association – as you know they’re also challenging that. , We understand that, and we’ve had a tremendous focus in recent months on the Personal Conduct Policy, but it is working. We’ve had a 40 percent reduction in player arrests just through the 2015 calendar year. Forty percent. Our arrest rates for our players are far below the average for males of that age, and it reflects for me on the quality of our players off the field. They’re great young men. There’s a lot of attention when people violate the rules. You don’t put as much attention on the finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year. That’s what we’re trying to do, but if we can find a better system, I’m all for it.”
In the Tom Brady case when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman ruled in favor of the Union and Brady, the League felt that that infringed on the Commissioner’s powers as outlined in the CBA. When the NFL’s appeal of Berman’s decision is argued next month, if the league should happen to win the appeal, is it your intention to reinstate Tom Brady’s four-game suspension?
“Gary, I’ve said this to you before, and I’ve said it publically many times, that is not an individual player issue. This is about the rights we negotiated in our Collective Bargaining Agreement. We think they are very clear, we think they are important to the league going forward and we disagree with the District Judge’s decision. We are appealing that, which is part of the legal process. I am not focused on it right now. I am not going to speculate on what we are going to do. Depending on the outcome, we’ll let the outcome be dictated by the appeals court. When it happens, we’ll deal with it then.”
In March after Amy Adams Strunk became controlling owner of the Titans, you said you wanted to ensure the team is under the proper ownership structure. What is the structure issue? What progress has been made on it, and when can we expect a resolution?
“Well, we have ownership policies. The ownership policies are lengthy but essentially they require a single owner to represent the club locally, but also at the league level. We work on the basis of 32 individual owners each having a vote and when league matters come up, whatever they may be, we work on a vote of 24 of the 32. It’s a very important principle to owners and their partners. They want to know who their partner is. They want to know that they’re responsible for how the team is operated locally and they want to know that their partner is sitting at the table when they’re making difficult decisions. So, we will try to enforce our policies to encourage that type of behavior. We have to continue to work with the Tennessee ownership group to see how that’s going to conform with our policies. We’ll be meeting with them in the next few weeks. That’s a subject that will be discussed.”
Just this past season, seven high school football players died from injuries suffered in games or practice and that included three in one week. In light of that, do you still feel comfortable encouraging parents of teens and pre-teens to play tackle football through initiatives like USA Football and Play 60?
“Bart, I do. And listen, any time you have circumstances where there’s loss of life, that’s tragic. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve invested so aggressively in USA Football and our Heads Up Football program, to bring the right kind of coaching and the right kind of techniques to the game of football at all levels. We have made changes at the NFL level, and those changes are going all the way through every level of football. That’s a cultural change. There’s greater awareness of injuries. We’ve seen changes over the years in dehydration. We’ve seen changes in the way practices occur on all levels of football. Getting the head out of the game is a very important initiative at all levels. Pete Carroll did what he called the Hawk tackling video almost two years ago now, which a lot of coaches on all levels have used, not just to teach tackles but also the fundamentals of the game. So, these are very positive changes. They’ve led to very positive changes statistically. When you use Heads Up Football, I think we saw a 78 percent reduction in injuries. That’s great for kids who are playing this game. From my standpoint, I played the game of football for nine years through high school. I wouldn’t give up a single day of that. If I had a son, I’d love to have him play the game of football. I’d love to have him play the game of football because of the values you get. There’s risks in life. There’s risks to sitting on the couch. What we want to do is get people active and want them to experience the game of football because the game of football will teach you the values that I discussed with (NFL Play 60 Super Kid) Marlo (Mosley), I think it was, just earlier today. The discipline, the teamwork, the perseverance, those are values and those are skills that will lead you through life, and I believe football is the best to teach that.”
Calvin Johnson is expected to retire this year and walk away from millions of dollars at the age of 30. Last year, several players retired in their 20s, including Chris Borland in his early 20s. What does it say to you about the state of the NFL, that so many players are walking away so young?
“Well, I disagree with the premise of your question to start with. You’re taking those issues and you’re combining them. I think each individual player makes his own individual decision about how long they play the game, who they play for, under what conditions they play. Those are individual decisions that we respect, and they’re made for different reasons. We will continue to support our players, we’ll continue to help them in those decision-making processes, but I don’t see so many people walking away from the game. I don’t agree with that. I see great athletes playing this game and loving to play this game. I talk to players all the time. They say, ‘I hope I can play forever.’ They can’t. That’s not possible. These guys love this game, they’re passionate about this game, and if you lose that passion, maybe it is time to move on. That happens in life. I don’t know what Calvin Johnson is balancing. He’s a great player and a great young man, and whatever it is, I support him. Whatever it is, if I can do something to help him, even if it’s at his next stage of life, I’d do that to.”