NEW YORK — Roger Goodell gave a state of the sport address at Rose Hall in Manhattan today that tackled everything from a team in London to altering the league’s policy outlawing marijuana to expanding the playoffs. But his most controversial comment came in a steadfast defense of the nickname of the Washington Redskins.
He noted that the NFL would still listen to dissenting voices on the controversy. He again reminded, “Let’s not forget that this is the name of a football team.”
In an interview with a Washington, D.C. radio station last September, Goodell said of the Redskins name, “If one person is offended, we have to listen.”
When asked whether he would submit himself to the same drug testing that the league forces its players to submit to, Goodell responded that he already undergoes such screenings. “I am randomly tested,” the commissioner said to laughter, “and I have to say I am clean.” He called pot “an illegal substance on a national basis” with “questionable” benefits and “certainly some very strong evidence to the negative effects.” So, the league will continue to prohibit its use among its athletes.
Goodelll struck a bullish tone on an NFL franchise in London even if he refrained from an outright endorsement. Three sellouts of London games scheduled for the upcoming season, the commissioner claimed, served as “just another indication that the more we give the fans NFL football in the UK, the more they want.”
Talk of expanding beyond the North American continent shifted to talk of expanding the playoffs, which included an 8-8 team this season under the current twelve-franchise format. “We are looking at the idea of could we expand that to fourteen,” Goodell conceded. “That’s something that attracts us.”
Does he foresee the NFL easing up efforts to block a proposed sports book in New Jersey casinos? “I don’t,” he said, bristling at a suggestion that the league’s stances toward gambling and fantasy football somehow represented a dual standard.
Why have concussions declined thirteen percent this season? “Because we’ve made changes to the game. We’ve made changes to the rules. We made changes to the equipment.” Goodell’s answer, coming as it did as Elliot Pelllman, the former Jets team physician so tethered to the league’s mishandling of concussions, looked on from the audience surely will raise suspicions about the NFL’s commitment.
Could Super Bowl Sunday become Super Bowl Saturday? “I don’t see that changing in the very near future.”
Although such an alteration may strike Goodell as too much of an affront to tradition at this point, he did take pride in the bold move of scheduling a Super Bowl in an open-air stadium in a northern city. “The Super Bowl should be played in ideal conditions,” the current commissioner quoted predecessor Pete Rozelle. Nevertheless, Goodell, citing Rozelle’s move to place championship games on neutral fields, believes that Rozelle would have been supportive of this innovation, contending: “We are doing something innovative and unprecedented.”
As the commissioner reported that the NFL doesn’t control the weather and couldn’t make it snow on Sunday, a stream of white flakes suddenly cascaded from the ceiling behind him to the delight of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, a ball-cap-wearing Jets owner Woody Johnson, Patriots owner Robert Kraft (with youthful girlfriend in tow), Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, and various other NFL dignitaries in attendance.