NEW YORK—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has had a rough year. So rough, in fact, that as he was sitting down for an annual meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors, a report from Fox Sports's Alex Marvez and Mike Garafolo revealed that Greg Hardy was involved in a verbal altercation with a Cowboys teammate at the team's facility, just two days after the league had handed down a 10-game suspension on the defensive end.
From the legal cases of Hardy, Ray Rice, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson to the league's broader conversations on concussions and domestic violence, the NFL has been faced with an unprecedented number of public firestorms in the last year, and Goodell was asked to answer for many of them within a wide-ranging conversation with the assembled media inside the league's Park Avenue offices on Friday afternoon.
With him, he brought a panel of fellow league executives: NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel, VP of social responsibility Anna Isaacson, special counsel for conduct Todd Jones and senior vice president of health and safety policy Jeff Miller. The panel spoke to the NFL’s recent developments and education efforts with regards to the new player conduct policy, and player safety initiatives before the question and answer session turned to the league's other hot topics.
Here are the highlights from Goodell and the other members of the panel:
• Jeff Miller, senior VP of health and safety policy, expanded upon the NFL's recently-released statistic that the league has seen a 25% decrease in concussions in games over the last year, which continues a trend of a 36% decrease year-over-year in the last three years.
"That equates to less than one-half of one concussion per game during the regular season, In other words, any NFL team will have on its roster less than four concussions per season during the regular season. … Importantly, in those numbers, there’s a 43% decline in number of concussion caused by helmet-to-helmet hits over the last three years. This demonstrates that players are lowering their target zones, that we’re getting better hits, better contact and that some of the hits we’re trying to take out of the game, we’re in fact doing that. In fact, one other element: 68% percent decrease in that time among head hits. We’re seeing a real culture change. That’s probably an impact of rules changes and penalties and enforcement, and the players deserve credit."
• Goodell on Jameis Winston entering the league: "I had the opportunity to meet with Jameis a few weeks ago, I had a good session with him, along with other people, here in the office. I had the opportunity to talk about what it means to be an NFL player, what we expect, and I think he understands the league that he’s coming into and what’s expected of him."
• On the status of Ted Wells' investigation into Deflategate: "I’m aware of the investigation, when Ted Wells is done with the investigation he is going to give us a report, I do not know the timing of that, he has not given us a timetable."
• On Hardy’s ‘verbal altercation’ with a Cowboys teammate, and whether he'll be ‘on a short leash’: “Well I’m not aware of the incident, if it was an incident. Verbal altercations, we would like to know a lot more about what that would be. … But the answer to that is yes, in the sense that our policy is very clear, particularly when it comes to crimes of violence. … It’s something we take very seriously. I think it’s fair to say that anyone in the league understands that they have the responsibility to conduct themselves in an appropriate way.”
• On the dueling Los Angeles relocation efforts of the Rams, Raiders and Chargers: "Yes, we do think those projects are viable. … We think the projects are very exciting. They have a great deal of potential to be successful.
"I do think there's urgency. Our team of people from this office have met with each of those communities, from business leaders to political leaders to others that are focused on how do we create alternatives and long-term solutions for those teams. We do see urgency on that. We heard directly from St. Louis representatives this week who are putting together a plan that we think is exciting."
"I think every club understands that there's a process. There's also a vote that's required, and maybe multiple votes, depending on the specific circumstances: whether stadium funding is included in that package, Super Bowls, anything else, those are all subject to votes, so I think every club understands that. The three in particular understand that, and there's a very good understanding that there's a whole lot of work within that process."
• On his meeting with St. Louis city representatives: "I think they've made a lot of progress. They've gotten to the point where they've identified a site, as you know. They've identified various funding resources, they've identified a design plan that we think is responsive to having a franchise be successful in St. Louis, so I would tell you that I think they're continuing down a path that I think is a very positive path."
• On the Redskins nickname: "You know it's a divisive issue, and there are people that are on both sides of that and have strong views. The name has been around for several decades, and the fans feel very strongly about that, but we also understand that there are others on the other side of that. So we understand that, we are listening, and we're listening to every side on this one… There is no evolution of that at this stage."
• On whether the NFL will follow other leagues who have opened up the lines to gambling: "We've been very open about our position that we oppose legalized sports gambling. We haven't changed our position on that, and I don't anticipate us changing that going forward at all. We think the integrity of the game is the most important thing, and we believe that our current position is the right way to be able to handle that, but on the other hand, if changes happen, we'll be prepared for those."
• On the recent multi-year sponsorship agreement struck between several NFL teams and daily fantasy sports company FanDuel: "This has been a source of a lot of discussion internally and also with our ownership and committees in making sure we understand that fans are doing this, but we do not want to cross the line we think is inappropriate and moving more towards something that we think is prohibitively gambling. That's not the case here, but we are taking a cautious approach to it and making sure that we observe how it involves. Our involvement as clubs is very limited and preferably limited … Our relationship is more limited to an advertising-driven relationship.
• On how he's been affected and grown from the last year in office: "These folks who I work with on a daily basis or my wife and two kids probably would be better to answer that question, but I think part of life is growing and learning and understanding that no one has all the answers but you learn from your experiences. Everyone makes mistakes. What we have to do, what I have to do as an individual is learn from those mistakes and be better going forward. That's what I've been so proud about the whole organization is that we have really pulled together and addressed issues in a responsible way. We don't have all the solutions yet by any stretch of the imagination, but we have made real progress that is going to affect not just the NFL family but we think a fair distance beyond that."