NFL's Goodell shows both humility and defiance in annual address

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses some of the issues the league faced in the last year.

PHOENIX - What a difference a year makes.

On the eve of the Super Bowl a year ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell delivered an imperious state-of-the-game address, then jousted with reporters in his typically combative manner.

Yesterday, Goodell stood before 2,000 reporters and NFL executives a humbler man.

His power diminished and his haughtiness gone, Goodell acknowledged his failures of the past year as the league's profile descended to this:

A collection of woman-beating, child-abusing, insubordinate cheaters.

"It's been a tough year on me, personally," he said. "It's been a year of humility, and learning."

The Shield took a lot of hits. Goodell bore the brunt.

"More importantly, it's been adversity for me," Goodell said. "It's an opportunity for us to get better. We've all done a lot of soul-searching, starting with yours truly . . . We didn't fully understand those issues."

Goodell better realizes the terror NFL types can project, now that he has visited victims in shelters and had a chance to, as he put it: "Hear the fear."

It's fair to wonder whether Goodell feels some fear himself these days; if his new, less aggressive persona reflects his job insecurity. He said he expects to remain at the league's helm, but it sounds as if he will take hard-line stands against Beli-Cheat and Marshawn Lynch to strengthen his office.

Over the past year, Goodell was pilloried with criticisms over how he dealt with domestic violence and abuse cases, most notably those of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Goodell yesterday repeatedly addressed the league's new conduct policy, but he distanced himself from the biggest buzzwords.

He did not say the words "domestic violence" or "sexual assault" until his 50-minute address was nearly halfway done; and then, only in the context of the league helping society at large solve those problems.

The NFL also endured yet another year of recriminations over how it deals with player-safety issues, specifically head traumas, and their lasting effects.

Current pending issues seem petty by comparison.

For the second straight year, Lynch mocked NFL requirements concerning cooperation with the press.

For the second time in less than a decade, the Patriots, considered Goodell's pet franchise because of his friendship with owner Robert Kraft, are under investigation for cheating. They used illegal footballs in the AFC title game.

These issues might seem trivial by comparison, but it appears that Goodell and Co. will err on the side of harshness.

Goodell mentioned the possible forfeiture of draft picks if the Patriots took "deliberate action" and cheated . . . again. The Patriots 7 1/2 years ago ignored league warnings and taped opponents' signals on the sideline, the crux of the "Spygate" scandal. Outrageously, Goodell destroyed "Spygate" videotapes, enraging members of Congress who protect the NFL's special status.

That was old, arrogant King Roger.

This time, Goodell promised to release the "Deflategate" findings to the public. The Patriots' prior offense might have been more egregious, but their repeat-offender status could tighten the noose this time.

"We are a league of rules," Goodell said. "They'll be enforced, whether they're enforced with financial penalties, suspensions, with [lost] draft choices."

Goodell was similarly humorless concerning Lynch.

The league reportedly threatened Lynch with a $500,000 fine if he did not cooperate this year (he did not). Lynch was fined $100,000 for his refusal to cooperate during the 2013 season, at Super Bowl XLVIII and for not talking after this past November's loss to the Chiefs.

Some NFL suits said they would not mind seeing Lynch suspended this time.

"I've been very clear that, when you're in the NFL, you have an obligation," Goodell said. "An obligation to the fans. It is part of your job. There are things we all have to do in our job that we may not necessarily want to do. I think Marshawn understands . . . the importance of him as an individual in this game. The fans want to know. The media would like to make that story clear to our fans. It might not be at the top of his list, but everyone else is cooperating. Everyone else is doing their part. It comes with the privilege of playing."

Other issues arose, most notably the annual push by Los Angeles to secure an NFL franchise, a 2-decade campaign whose best hope currently is the relocation of the Rams, though St. Louis might build them a new stadium to help keep them put.

Goodell summarily dismissed the convention that Saints owner Tom Benson is physically and mentally unfit to make decision about that franchise, and Goodell shelved the concept of expanding the NFL playoffs.

He practically laughed at Kraft's contention that the NFL would owe the Patriots an apology if "Deflategate" is determined to be unfounded. Goodell would not equate using illegal balls with the Saints' more dangerous policy of offering bonuses during "Bountygate," but he was steadfast in his assertion that the "integrity of the game" was sacrosanct, no matter how many jokes are told about softened footballs.

He hardened when it was suggested that his performance over the past year warranted a cut of his $44 million salary, but allowed that if the owners believed he was worth less, "I don't argue."

He bristled only once, when it was suggested that independent investigators the league hired have a conflict of interest because the league pays them for their services.

"Somebody has to pay them," he said, brusquely.

Generally, though, this was a kinder, gentler Goodell; defanged, but determined.

Predictably, he pointed out the dip in reported concussions (25 percent) and dangerous hits (68 percent).

He harped on the unilateral implementation of the league's Personal Conduct Policy, a new, harsher set of behavior guidelines spurred by the league's recent epidemic of domestic violence and abuse incidents. It was unanimously approved in December by the owners and applies to all NFL employees - from Rice and Peterson, who lost at least this season, to disgraced Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was suspended for six games after a DWI conviction.

The policy came about with minimal input from the player's union, which Thursday vowed to fight the policy on the grounds that it violates the collective bargaining agreement. Bring it on, Goodell said.

"It raises the standards for all of us," he said.

He congratulated his league on the success of Thursday night football and on the success of NFL games played in England, which will be an ongoing feature. He indicated that the NFL might make extra points tougher and might allow penalties to be reviewed with replay - a nod to the reversed pass-interference call that helped advanced the Cowboys past the Lions in their wild-card game.

Goodell said he soon would hire lieutenants to oversee the complex issues of player health and safety and of discipline. Goodell's ham-handed issuance of penalties, especially to Rice and Peterson, caused a national uproar and had several groups calling for his ouster.

Much was made of Goodell having a photograph taken with Kraft at Kraft's home on the eve of this year's AFC Championship Game. While Goodell acknowledged being an admirer of Kraft, Goodell said he was compelled to visit Kraft's home to attend a league function.

Goodell said it with minimal defiance; he said it hoping that everyone just would understand.

He sounded like a man desperate for allies.

Last year, Kraft attended Goodell's state-of-the-game address.

This year, Kraft stayed away.

 


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