On Oct. 2, after just four and a half weeks on the job, Goodell suspends the Titans' Albert Haynesworth for five games without pay after the defensive tackle stomped on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode, then protested his subsequent personal-foul penalty by spiking his helmet.
Goodell beefs up the NFL's return-to-play policy for concussions, his first major legislative commitment to player safety in competition. The new policy states that a player must be held out of a game or practice in which he has lost consciousness and that he cannot return to the field until he passes a battery of neurological tests. On Dec. 17 he suspends Dallas safety Roy Williams after his third horse-collar tackle of the season.
March 12, 2012
A Sept. 17 memo from Goodell warns all coaches and players of steep penalties for "unnecessary injury caused by illegal and dangerous hits." The memo comes three days after Buccaneers cornerback Elbert Mack delivers a helmet-to-helmet hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during an interception return, and 11 days before Jets safety Eric Smith launches helmet-first into defenseless Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin. Because Mack's flagrant foul was his second of the season, he serves a one-game suspension. The league fines Smith $50,000 and suspends him one game without pay. On Nov. 20, Goodell issues another memo reiterating his pledge to enforce discipline evenly.
On Oct. 28, Goodell testifies before the House Judiciary Committee, which scolds him for the NFL's handling of brain injuries to players. Later he imposes stricter concussion policies, barring players from returning to games or practices not just if they lose consciousness but also if they experience any concussion symptoms. Before they return to the field, they must be cleared by independent neurological testing. A week earlier he had suspended the Panthers' Dante Wesley one game for leading with his forearm and shoulder when hitting Tampa kick returner Clifton Smith in the head as Smith was about to field a punt. Smith suffered a concussion on the play.
Goodell endures his most gruesome Sunday as commissioner on Oct. 17 when the Steelers' James Harrison, the Patriots' Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson all deliver crippling helmet-to-helmet blows in league games. The NFL fines Harrison $75,000 for hits on the Browns' Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi that forced both players to exit the game with concussions. Meriweather earns a $50,000 fine (reduced to $40,000 on appeal) for leveling the Ravens' Todd Heap. Robinson is docked $50,000 (reduced to $25,000 on appeal) for knocking out Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. The following Tuesday the NFL announces that it will begin immediately suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits.
Goodell targets repeat offenders. On Nov. 28, he suspends Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on the biceps of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith. The punishment comes 27 days after Suh, the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year, had visited Goodell in New York to discuss the $42,500 Suh had accumulated in contact fines for three separate incidents in little more than a year. On Dec. 13, Goodell suspends the Steelers' Harrison one game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy; the illegal blow is Harrison's fifth on a quarterback and seventh in the past three seasons. McCoy suffered a concussion but showed no posthit symptoms and returned to the huddle after sitting out two plays. Later his father says McCoy was not able to remember anything that happened through the rest of the game.