Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed a wide range of topics with USA Today NFL writer Jarrett Bell for a Q&A which appeared in this morning’s paper.
Among the issues covered were the NFL Draft – which kicks off Thursday night in primetime (ESPN and NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET) — and the player personnel system which NFLPA attorneys are taking aim at in court. The 2011 NFL Draft is the 76th in the league’s history and is the longest-running draft in U.S. professional sports.
“[The Draft] is a fundamental aspect of making the league competitive, and it is not just the NFL,” Commissioner Goodell said. “Every other league has some form of a draft. It has been fundamental to the success of professional sports. When you see that kind of an attack, as someone who is responsible for the integrity of the game and the popularity of the game, it is troubling to me.”
“What is being pursued by the union attorneys is a completely different vision for the NFL than what I have,” Commissioner Goodell continued. “They are challenging fundamental aspects that have made the league successful and popular with the fans. They are going after the Draft, as an example. They are pursuing the Draft as being illegal. They are pursuing free-agency restrictions as being illegal. They are pursuing aspects of the salary cap as illegal. That is what they are saying. We don’t believe that. It has been negotiated. We think they have been good for the clubs, for the players and most importantly, for our fans. It is what has created this successful product. The union attorneys are attacking everything we think has made the league successful.”
Following is the transcript of Commissioner Goodell’s Q&A with Jarrett Bell:
NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL
INTERVIEW WITH USA TODAY REPORTER JARRETT BELL
On waiting for Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling:
I don’t think litigation is going to resolve this matter. It is going to be resolved through negotiation and a broader collective bargaining agreement. It is a positive whenever you are negotiating, but clearly, the litigation strategy that the union is pursuing is delaying any serious negotiations that really are going to lead to a collective bargaining agreement. That part of it is frustrating because valuable time is escaping us. It is putting financial risk and other risk in play. It is unfortunate for most importantly our fans, but also the players and the clubs.
On Nelson’s ruling affecting the 2011 NFL Draft:
I don’t believe so but let’s wait for the ruling. The Draft is not at issue here with respect to the things that are on her schedule and in her decision. Let’s respect the judge’s position to be able to make her ruling. We’ll adjust from there.
On if Nelson’s ruling could cause consternation for the NFL in respect to the 2011 NFL Draft:
It is why you have to wait and see what the ruling is before you start adjusting hypothetically. Obviously, we recognized they were going to pursue this litigation strategy. We were prepared for that. Our legal team was prepared for that. Again, it still needs to come back to negotiations.
When you get back and you look at this, what is being pursued by the union attorneys is a completely different vision for the NFL than what I have. They are challenging fundamental aspects that have made the league successful and popular with the fans. They are going after the Draft, as an example. They are pursuing the Draft as being illegal. They are pursuing free-agency restrictions as being illegal. They are pursuing aspects of the salary cap as illegal. That is what they are saying. We don’t believe that. It has been negotiated. We think they have been good for the clubs, for the players and most importantly, for our fans. It is what has created this successful product.
The union attorneys are attacking everything we think has made the league successful.
On the NFLPA attacking the NFL Draft:
It is a fundamental aspect of making the league competitive, and it is not just the NFL. Every other league has some form of a draft. It has been fundamental to the success of professional sports. When you see that kind of an attack, as someone who is responsible for the integrity of the game and the popularity of the game, it is troubling to me.
On if the NFL would immediately change its operating strategies to attend to issues cited by the NFLPA in the event Judge Nelson grants an injunction:
You are getting into a lot of hypotheticals but you know that I am always a proponent of doing things differently. We have got to get better in everything we do. Part of what we are doing in the collective bargaining process is modifying what we are doing and making sure we continue to make the league successful. Modifying the rookie compensation system; changing the basic economic structure to at least recognize the cost of building the game and keeping the game successful; making changes in player health and safety; and making changes to improve the benefits for retired players, all of those things are part of the collective bargaining process that we think need to be addressed.
We made a proposal on March 11 which improves retiree pensions by 60 percent; we made improvements to player health and safety with respect to how we would conduct the offseason and reduce the types of impacts that players have indicated are concerned to them. We want to address it. I have listened to the players. I understand their perspective. We have made a responsive proposal on those issues.
On revising the March 11 NFL proposal in the most recent mediation session:
The judge (Judge Arthur Boylan) asked us to be respectful of the process in keeping it confidential. We gave him our word that we would do that. I can’t answer any specific questions about the mediation and what transpired during that process.
On advising teams about this year’s draft and a rookie wage scale:
We haven’t advised them of anything. They are approaching the Draft as they normally do. They are obviously aware of the proposal we made. Those proposals were developed not only with the CEC (Management Council Executive Committee), our labor committee, but also the full membership and many of the working club executives. They are fully aware of the different proposals on the table. The clubs are going to continue to approach the Draft in a manner to try to improve their teams as they always have.
On the 2011 NFL Draft:
The Draft is one of my favorite events because it is about football. I am the biggest fan of football out there. One of the things that I love about the Draft is that every team improves themselves. People are focused on how their teams are improving themselves. It is a celebration of football. Most importantly, it represents a very important time in the lives of these young men who are entering the NFL and their families. To be a part of them starting their careers is an honor and a privilege. I enjoy having the time with the players who we bring in. We are bringing in the most players ever this year. I think we will have 25 players. It is an exciting thing for me, I know it is for our clubs and I know it is for our fans.
On the work stoppage affecting marketing and sponsorship for the 2011 NFL Draft:
We made the change to a primetime Draft last year. The year before, we made the changes to the timing of the Draft. We made it a very important offseason event not just for the clubs and not just for the players but also for our business partners. We have record participation of sponsors, licensees and the media this year. There is a tremendous focus on the event. It will be an exciting three days for the NFL. Our business partners are reflecting that not only in their participation around the Draft but the way they are promoting the event. It is a plus for us all.
On NFLPA Draft events:
We’ve approached this the same way we always do. We’ve invited the players and their families. We’re doing all the events we normally do. I’m completely focused on the events we’re doing. I think we’re going to have a great event.
On timing of the 2011 regular-season schedule announcement:
It’s generally the same timeframe. It varies from time to time based on when we’re finished with it. It was the week of the draft last year, but I think the draft was also a few days earlier last year. So I think it was generally the same time period.
On what to tell fans about the schedule given the labor uncertainly:
We’re preparing and planning to play a full 16-game regular season schedule. We put it out, as you pointed out, within the normal time period. We recognize the uncertainty of the labor situation, but we’re planning and preparing for a full season.
On August 1 being a drop-dead date to have a new CBA for the season to begin on time (speculating because of the Bucs-Bears game scheduled for London’s Wembley Stadium being decided on August 1):
No. You’re reading way too much into that. It was simply a date that our people who run the London game, where they felt it was a critical point with respect to commitments we have for hotels, the stadium, other plans to conduct the international game. It was completely focused on the international game itself.
On contingency plans for the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and the possibility of playing 16 games if the season doesn’t begin on time:
We put the schedule together on the basis that we play the full four preseason games and 16 regular-season games and the full playoffs. We think that the setup that we have works quite well. We are obviously open to making changes to our scheduling format, as you know from the 18-2 concept, but we did this recognizing that this season we were clearly going to be playing a 16-4 format.
I think uncertainty is what you’re pointing to. Anytime there is uncertainty for planning events, not only the logistics, but also for business partners, it does have an impact. That’s why we think we should remove the uncertainty, why we believe that they longer the uncertainty goes, it’s bad for the players, our clubs, our business partners, for the fans. That’s why we to get this resolved sooner rather than later.
On the impact with business partners at this point:
There’s no question that it’s starting to damage in my mind the planning and the emotion of the season. It’s going to affect the financial impact that will impact on the clubs and the players.
On whether or not a season can be played without a CBA:
I think you answered your own questions (by referencing 1987-1993). I’m not going to answer hypotheticals. We need a collective bargaining agreement that’s going to address the issues that we’ve identified. They are good for the game. They’re good for the players, and they’re good for the clubs. We need to address those issues responsibly and reach a fair agreement.
On how ticket prices have been affected by the labor uncertainty:
That just goes back to a previous question you raised, Jarrett, with the impact on revenue. Because of the uncertainty, a number of teams didn’t raise ticket prices. That’s good for fans on one level, but it does have an impact on revenue growth in which the players share. A number of teams did not raise ticket prices, but it also goes to the other side of why we believe there has to be the right economic system in place because we know what our fans are going through. There are tough times out there. We hear that from our fans. I hear it. Our clubs hear it. We have to be responsible. The cost of attending our events, participating in the NFL, we have to be sensitive to that. It has to be done in a responsible fashion.
On whether or not raising ticket prices, on any level, is good for fans (response to previous answer):
If the cost of attending the event doesn’t go up, I think fans would look at that as a positive.
On former Giants WR Amani Toomer’s apology:
I have not heard from Amani Toomer.
On how to bridge the gap between the two parties given the current climate (inflammatory comments being made by players, etc.):
This is a labor dispute. There are negotiations going on. I don’t get myself caught up into the rhetoric or any kind of personal comments that are made. The best thing that can be done here, we get back to negotiating. We resolve this issue in a fair manner for all parties and reach the right agreement and continue to build the game. That’s how we’ve been successful is by working to do that. I don’t think it’s beneficial for us as a league – that includes everybody – clubs, players, business partners – to be dividing the league. We need to work together to try to address our issues, find solutions and continue to deliver great football. That’s what fans want.
On why he called Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco:
Because he tweeted it, he tweeted me and asked me to call him. I talk to players all the time.
On if that is a fine line given the climate:
I think it is important. I have great respect for our players. I think it is important for me to continue to listen to them.
On how he would characterize the talk with Ochocinco:
I talk to Chad frequently. I always enjoy my conversations with Chad.
On HGH testing and incorporation into new CBA:
Technology is changing, technology is improving. It is important for us in protecting the integrity of the league, which is my number one responsibility, to make sure we have the best drug program. There are advancements in the testing methodologies. In fact, I just had my HGH test in the last couple of weeks. I want to see what is involved with the testing. They came in here at 9:30 in the morning completely unannounced, and I went through the testing procedures, the same ones our players go through – because I want to see what it is like. It is being done on a broad basis on the Olympic level, and we are going to continue to make sure we have the best drug program, and that means using the new technologies and using the advancements in medicine and technology to make sure we have the best drug program.
On concussion protocol and the potential for players to intentionally fudge their baseline tests:
The new protocols are just another step that we have taken. We have made a series of changes not only in our protocol, but also in our rules and our equipment. Certainly, we have led the way in research and just really the recognition of the seriousness of these injuries. And it has had an impact not only in the NFL, but in every level of football, but more importantly every other sport. You are seeing that — they are adopting similar rules to what we have done, and I am proud of our leadership role in that.
As it relates to the specific question, I think that goes with changing the culture, it goes with the recognition of the seriousness of the injury. I would hope that players certainly understand the risk of doing that and would not do that. It is not in their best individual interest, and that is one of the reasons why we have tried to make sure that players, coaches, and everyone else involved in athletics understand the seriousness of these issues.
On what his message is to retired players on the labor front:
We have sent out through Jerry Richardson and Mark Murphy, who are two former players on our labor committee, the changes that were proposed that would directly impact retired players, including the 60 percent increase in their pensions. That is an important issue for the clubs, and it is an important issue for me personally. We have made changes outside of the CBA in various medical benefits and programs that we can provide to retired players. We have done that over the last couple of years. You have seen the joint replacement program, the cardiovascular screening – but we made significant changes and proposals to the players that I think will positively impact the great players who played this game. We should do that, that is our responsibility, and I have great respect for them. You have seen the proposal, so I won’t go through it. We have been very open with the retired players that this is an important issue for us, and we are going to continue to seek changes that will benefit them.
On average career length of players:
You have to look at the facts and you have to look at how it is calculated. The approach that the Management Council released a couple of weeks ago was based on the fact that the reason people have looked at the number being three-and-a-half years is because they count all of the players that do not make an NFL roster. That obviously brings an average down. I hate to say but it is part of the inaccuracy of looking at averages and statistics. What they gave were facts where if a player makes an opening day roster, their career is very close to six years – I think it is 5.8 years. If you are a first-round draft choice that makes an opening day roster, I think it is nine years. Those are just facts. It is not anything other than trying to make sure that people understand it. The differences in the numbers are how it is calculated. I think you would agree counting players that do not ever make a roster does not make an awful lot of sense when considering an average. It was just an attempt to make sure people really understand what the real length of a career for NFL players are.
On if the long term relationship with players are underscored by the length of careers being longer than most think:
The answer to that is yes. But everything we are trying to do is to try to improve player health and safety. We have made rule changes, we have made equipment changes. We would all hope the average length of the career of NFL players would increase. That is part of our efforts. You want to make sure the game is safe and that you do everything possible to improve the health and safety of our players, while they are playing and after they play.