SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with increasing pressure about the health and well-being of current and former players, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday defended his sport and contended that football at any age offers many life-enhancing benefit despite the physical risks associated with the game.
“From my standpoint, I played the game of football for nine years through high school [and] I wouldn’t give up a single day of that,” Goodell said at his annual Super Bowl news conference at Moscone Convention Center. “If I had a son, 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. 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.”
Goodell’s comment about “risks to sitting on the couch” seemed tone deaf, given the seriousness of the increased scrutiny about football and whether it is truly safe enough to play at any level. More than 100 deceased NFL players have been diagnosed with the degenerative neurological condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), most recently former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, who died in July.
But the commissioner said the league’s increased attention to making the game safer has created better conditions for players. Goodell said he believes the league has taken the issue of concussions very seriously, as demonstrated by its decision to fund research and make rules changes.
“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,” he said. “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.”
He noted that next season, a new helmet will be introduced, one that reacts similar to a car bumper when there is impact. Also being considered is the use of a mat that can be placed under artificial surfaces to better cushion blows.
“We’re seeing a lot of great changes that are leading to making the game safer,” he said. “We are also investing aggressively in research so that we can get the answers to perplexing problems that we don’t all have. We’ve seen the benefits of that. We’ve seen the positive changes.”
Goodell addressed several other topics during a question-and-answer session:
n He said the NFL would do everything possible to see that the Chargers remain in San Diego and the Raiders remain in Oakland. The Chargers have reached an agreement to move to the Los Angeles market and share a soon-to-be-built stadium with the Rams, but the team will remain in San Diego for the 2016 season in hopes of reaching agreement on a new stadium in the city. The Raiders are also looking for a new stadium in Oakland, but have yet to make significant progress toward that goal.
“My pledge to [Chargers owner] Dean Spanos and to [Raiders owner] Mark Davis, to the mayor of Oakland and the mayor of San Diego, is to do everyting possible we can to support them, to try and get the right kind of facilities long-term in both those markets,” Goodell said. “This has to work for the community and it has to work for the teams long-term.”
n The commissioner said he would recommend to the league’s competition committee that any player who received two personal fouls during a single game should be automatically ejected. The issue came up in light of on-field incidents involving Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, as well as Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Beckham committed three personal fouls and Norman had two in a game in December, although neither player was ejected. Beckham was suspended for one game. Burfict was suspended three games for striking Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the head during a first-round playoff game.
Goodell said the ejection after personal fouls is “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.”
n Goodell said the league is working with the World Anti-Doping Agency and other sports that were implicated in an Al Jazeera story that aired in December in which several players, including Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, were accused of using human growth hormone, which is banned by the NFL.
“We take every allegation and violation of our policies and procedures, particularly when it pertains to safety, very seriously,” Goodell said. “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, 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.”
n Goodell announced that the NFL will stage a game in Mexico City on Nov. 21 between the Texans and Raiders. It will be the first game in Mexico since the Cardinals played the 49ers in 2005.
n Goodell said the NFL’s spot checks for teams using properly inflated footballs during games this year detected no violations. The measure was taken as a result of the 2015 AFC Championship Game, when it was determined that it was “more probable than not,” according to an NFL-sanctioned investigation, that the Patriots used underinflated footballs in the first half and that quarterback Tom Brady was “generally aware” of the plan. Goodell said the intent of the checks was not to do research on how weather may affect the inflation pressure of footballs, but to make sure teams complied with the rules.
“The intent of what we were doing was not a research project,” Goodell said. “It was to make sure that our policies were followed, just as we do in other areas of our game operations.”
Goodell said he did not want to speculate on whether Brady’s four-game suspension related to DeflateGate would be reinstated if the NFL wins its appeal of a ruling that struck down the sanction.