Commissioner Goodell: “We need to get together and solve our problems face-to-face”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed the need for negotiations in an interview with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen prior to the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.

“We need to get together and solve our problems face-to-face and negotiate these issues, and get to the point where we can remove the uncertainty, get an agreement that works for everybody,” Commissioner Goodell said. “That’s only going to happen through collective bargaining.”

“Our game is in such a great place,” Commissioner Goodell added. “If we can work together to address these issues, we can make the game better. You know I’m a big believer in this game. I love the game of football. And I think we have so many great things ahead of us, and if we can address the issues and make our game stronger, invest in our game, use innovation, continue to create the competitive kind of game, that’s where we’re going to be. And what worries me about this litigation is a lot of the end-game for the attorneys on the players’ side is to take at risk what we’re doing tonight – the Draft – that’s not only made the NFL so successful, but it’s also made other sports. We’re seeing threats to the free agency issues and the salary cap issues, and the balance that that’s created. So what does that do for the game of football? I think that puts that at risk and we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Following is a transcript of the Commissioner’s interview on NFL Network:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen

April 28, 2011

Rich Eisen: “An actual football event.”

Roger Goodell: “Aren’t we looking forward to that.”

Eisen: “Where we just talk football tonight. But obviously things with the labor situation will no doubt creep in on occasion about trades and whatnot. I have to ask you where you think things stand right now in the National Football League? Your thoughts as we enter what seems to be a very uncertain night in an uncertain period?”

Goodell: “The thing that’s so troubling about it is that we’re in this litigation phase here which none of us control, whether it’s the timing or the decisions, and it has an impact on what we’re doing. We need to get together and solve our problems face-to-face and negotiate these issues, and get to the point where we can remove the uncertainty, get an agreement that works for everybody. That’s only going to happen through collective bargaining.”

Eisen: “But how do we get to that point? If this is Point A, how do we get to Point B?”

Goodell: “Well, unfortunately we had 17 days of mediation back in February and March, and the owners made a proposal at the end of that period which I was hopeful would be at least the basis for continuing those negotiations, and the union pursued the litigation strategy. I understand it, I get it. Everybody’s about leverage in a negotiation, but it’s going to be harder to do once this litigation goes because there will be aspects of it that will be uncontrollable. And I’m concerned personally as Commissioner of where some of that litigation can take us. Some of the challenges to the foundation of the game were things that I’m troubled by.”

Eisen: “In terms of – as you say leverage is part of a negotiation – it seems it’s putting the league and you in a position of wanting the game to be shut down to gain leverage in whatever negotiation is going on. I assume you don’t want to shut the game down, but it seems right now we’re waiting for a stay to try and gain leverage so the owners can gain leverage back. Is that a proper reading of the sitation?”

Goodell: “That’s the issue. We’re in a labor dispute here. Labor disputes usually get resolved through negotiations primarily. If you’re unsuccessful, there’s a strike or a lockout. Now litigation seeps into that and that’s just one other element that adds uncertainty to it. I think it’s unfortunate because it’s just going to delay the ultimate solution, and that is not going to happen until we have a negotiated settlement.”

Eisen: “Is there any discussion from the league side about the strategy to this point and its effectiveness? Has there been any discussion about that?”

Goodell: “You always have discussions about your strategy, your negotiating strategy, what can transpire, and that’s why I kept pushing that this really needs to get resolved by March 4. After March 4, it becomes much more complicated because there will be decertification, which they made it clear. There will be litigation and that’s the trouble of the circumstance that we’re in. We’ve got to get back into that negotiation.”

Eisen: “So you and the league have no issue with the strategy to this point? From the league and the owners’ side.”

Goodell: “No because the strategy is always to negotiate. When you’re thrust into litigation you have to obviously make sure that you’re prepared to deal with that litigation, and the owners are defending that.”

Eisen: “When can there be talk? When do you think there can be you and the owners on one side, and the players on the other side?”

Goodell: “I think that’s important to get back to that. We do have mediation scheduled for May 16 with the mediator in Minneapolis. We look forward to that time, and that’s the type of things that should happen, where there’s real bargaining across the table addressing the issues that need to be addressed.”

Eisen: “But you don’t think there will be any more litigation-led leverage grabs that will still be necessary to be played out on May 16?”

Goodell: “I think the litigation unfortunately can go on for some period of time. It’s usually not the fastest. It’s usually not the most direct route, and it’s one of the reasons it doesn’t really solve differences at the end of the day.”

Eisen: “When do you think the league year might start? What are the discussions internally?”

Goodell: “We’ve given instructions today to open up the doors tomorrow morning to allow players to come in, meet with coaches, start some of that preparation workout, use the facilities. And then we’re also working on the plan for player transactions. But we’re also waiting for judgments from another court – the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals – and we’ll have to take those decisions into account also.”

Eisen: “So when do you think you might hear something from St. Louis, from the judges in St. Louis?”

Goodell: “It’s totally their decision, Rich. I understand the stay is pending their decision and they’ll make that determination when they’re ready to do so.”

Eisen: “Is it possible that the rules of engagement for tonight’s first round of the draft, that there could be different rules set tomorrow based on league year opening up and things of that nature? Has that been discussed?”

Goodell: “You have many considerations here. First, you have to be respectful and cooperative with the rulings of the court, and we got that last night. Second, you have to continue to operate your business and make sure that you’re doing it in an orderly fashion. And third, you have to consider the competitive issues of running a league and that’s critically important to us. So all of those things are being factored in as we make decisions about how we proceed on the court order.”

Eisen: “How are you personally with this? Are you ticked? Are you angry?”

Goodell: “I’d say exactly what I said to the fans and what I sense from the fans last night: frustration. It’s frustrating because we have so much potential. Our game is in such a great place. If we can work together to address these issues, we can make the game better. You know I’m a big believer in this game. I love the game of football. And I think we have so many great things ahead of us, and if we can address the issues and make our game stronger, invest in our game, use innovation, continue to create the competitive kind of game, that’s where we’re going to be. And what worries me about this litigation is a lot of the end-game for the attorneys on the players’ side is to take at risk what we’re doing tonight – the Draft – that’s not only made the NFL so successful, but it’s also made other sports. We’re seeing threats to the free agency issues and the salary cap issues, and the balance that that’s created. So what does that do for the game of football? I think that puts that at risk and we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Eisen: “So how do we get you guys to talk? How does this happen? Can I help?”

Goodell: “Well, you know we sat on this set a couple of years ago and there was a prediction that’d we have an agreement so let’s get back to it. You may be right.”

Eisen: “Well whatever I can do to offer.”

Goodell: “And I feel the same way. Whatever I can do to make sure we get this done, it’s in the best interest of everybody.”

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