NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: Football ‘Has Never Been Safer’

TCA 2014: Goodell avoids yes-or-no question about whether anything’s wrong with football

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended professional football’s attempts to reduce head injuries Thursday, but declined to say whether there is anything wrong with the way the game is played.

As a Wrap reporter pressed Goodell for a yes or no answer, CBS CEO Les Moonves interrupted to ask for someone else to ask a question. They spoke at a Television Critics Association panel about CBS’s “Thursday Night Football.”

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A judge recently approved a multimillion-dollar settlement in which the NFL agreed to pay former NFL players who say they suffered neurological damage because of years of concussions on the field. The agreement sets payout amounts for those suffering from ailments like Lou Gehrig’s disease and dementia.

The Emmy-nominated “Frontline” special “League of Denial” reported last year that the hits an NFL player receives in a season are equivalent to crashing a car into a brick wall at 35 mph — 1,000 to 1,500 times.

Goodell stressed that the league is working hard to discourage players from hitting with their heads. TheWrap asked if, given the progress, there was still anything wrong with the way the game is played on any given Sunday.

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The game of football has never been safer than it is today,” Goodell said, citing rule changes and improvements in equipment. “We’re getting back to playing the game the way it should be — taking the head out of the game.”

“The No. 1 defense last year was the Seattle Seahawks,” he added. “Most people here would argue that they hit as hard as anybody. But they also tackle with the appropriate fundamentals.”

“It’s all progress,” said the reporter (full disclosure: me). “But yes or no, is there anything wrong with the way it’s played now?”

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“I don’t understand what that question is,” Goodell said. “It’s a hypothetical question. We think the game is outstanding. And we’ve always worked to try to make the games better and safer and more competitive. That’s one of the things that make the NFL great.”

The reporter started to say the question wasn’t hypothetical — it’s about the game as it’s currently played — but Moonves interjected: “Can we hear from somebody else, please?”

At another point in the panel, Goodell said Thursday night games were good for players’ recovery times because they have 10 days until the following Sunday game. (Of course, they also have less time to recover between Sunday and Thursday games.)

The NFL agreed to lift a $675 million cap on payouts to players with concussion-related claims.

Goodell said there were many factors in the decision to settle.

“The most important part of it for us was to get help to any player that is suffering from any kind of injury or damage that might not even have been caused by football,” he said.