Detractors may have been able to marginalize and stigmatize boxing–only to see it supplanted by the equally violent mixed-martial arts–but according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the same fate will not befall professional football.
Talking to assembled press, including Breitbart News, on Thursday at the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour, currently ongoing in Beverly Hills, California, Goodell, a former schoolboy football player, responded to a question from Breitbart News about growing efforts to cast football as beyond the pale.
“I played the game of football for 11 years,” he said. “And I wouldn’t give back a single day of playing the game. It’s a great sport. It teaches you a lot about life skills that I still use today, whether it’s discipline, whether it’s hard work, whether it’s working with people to reach a higher goal, learning about yourself, and how to get up when you’re physically knocked down, as well as emotionally knocked down.”
Talking as part of a panel–which also included CBS Corporation president and CEO Leslie Moonves, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus–about CBS sharing Thursday-night games with the NFL Network this season, Goodell also reflected on how football has overcome similar challenges in the past.
He said, “The game of football is a great game, and people have played it for generations. There have been views about the health of football for over a century. The reality is, because we’re so successful, and because we have such a big platform, we recognize there is going to be a spotlight on us. That’s why we’ve gone to make our game safer, whether it’s rules and equipment at the NFL level, and procedures that will make not just college football and high school and youth football safer, but I think, all sports.
“The awareness that we’re bringing to concussions has been good not only for sports, but also armed services, our soldiers. So, we’re proud of the position we take in making sports safer. Our players, by a government study, are living, on average, three years longer than the average male.”
As the father of twin girl soccer players–and as someone who played not only football but basketball and baseball, and had injuries prevent him from pursuing college football–Goodell also said, “The concussion rate in soccer, particularly girls’ soccer, is very high; same with lacrosse. And there’s a movement to specialization in youth sports which, my personal view is, that’s not a good thing for kids. Our kids should play sports. They should play them safely, but play as many sports as they possibly can.”
When another reporter cited fears that football would diminish as fewer parents let their sons play, Goodell said, “Well, you’re missing a lot of facts. First off, that kids are playing the game. Parents are making those decisions. They want to know that they can do it safely. So you’re asking a very hypothetical question.
“But my very strong belief is the best days in the NFL are ahead of it. The game will continue to grow and continue to flourish. We’ll continue to invest in the game at those levels.”
The conversation about head injuries continued, and Goodell turned for an example to the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks and its very effective defensive squad, nicknamed “The Legion of Boom.”
“We’re taking the head out of the game,” Goodell maintained, “and that is leading to some very positive developments, both from a safety standpoint and from a quality-of-football standpoint. The number-one defense last year was the Seattle Seahawks. Most people would argue that they tackled as hard as anybody, but they also tackled with appropriate fundamentals.
“And [coach] Pete Carroll just sent me a tape on what he’s teaching, called ‘Hawk tackling,’ which is incredibly positive in the way you learn how to tackle and keeping your head out of the game.”