Roger Goodell excels at delivering auto-pilot replies

By Ira Miller, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 6, 2016 at 2:18 AM
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SAN FRANCISCO - You can say a lot of things about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and some players and fans in a few cities have, but Friday it became clear there was one criticism you could not put on him: He was not guilty of substance abuse.

He spoke in what could only be termed a substance-free zone.

In his programmed answers to 23 questions over little more than a half-hour, Goodell's most newsworthy nuggets were that he had recommended automatic ejection from a game for a player called for two personal fouls, and that the league was, once again, concerned about the future of the Pro Bowl.

Unlike a year ago, when questions about the then-fresh controversy over Deflategate dominated the session, there was no overriding topic, a sign of the good times in which the NFL finds itself these days.

Of course, you could surely take issue with Goodell's answer to a question about whether reduced contact practices had led to a decline in the quality of play. He said, "I believe the quality of play has never been better in the NFL."

But Goodell only has been commissioner since 2006, so maybe no one told him about the Steelers and Raiders of the 1970s or the 49ers of the '80s or Cowboys of the early '90s.

Nonetheless, regardless of what you think of the quality of play, there is one area where the NFL's quality remains unquestioned, the quality - and quantity - of its income. No sport can print money like pro football, something of which we were reminded in the last week when NBC joined CBS in buying games on Thursday nights.

A lot more money will come, also, from the league's return to Los Angeles after a 20-year absence, but Goodell said he was still hopeful the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders would remain where they are rather than join the Rams, who are moving from St. Louis to LA.

Giving another expected, politically correct answer, he also refused to rule out the possibility of the NFL someday returning to St. Louis, a city from which two teams have fled in the last 30 years.

The question about personal fouls arose from a late-season game between the Giants and Panthers in which Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was out of control and called for three personal fouls, but not ejected. The NFL suspended him from the following week's game, however.

In calling for an automatic ejection after two personal fouls, Goodell said, it was a competition committee matter that had to be discussed with the NFL Players Association.

As for the Pro Bowl, Goodell described himself as "disappointed" in last Sunday's game in which barely half the players originally named to the game actually participated. It's a continuation of a trend in a game that has been on life support for years. The league scrapped the AFC-NFC format in favor of a player "draft" for teams by two Hall of Famers, but that doesn't seem to have helped the quality of play in a meaningless exhibition players care little about.

"We may have to do something different," Goodell said. "It's not the kind of game we want to continue to have in its current format, based on what we saw last week."

Goodell also said the NFL was working on a new helmet designed to help prevent concussions, was considering playing more than the current three games a year in London, was putting a Houston-Oakland game in Mexico City in November, said the league would continue its prohibition against marijuana use even where it is legal, like Denver, and said he was "not going to speculate" on what the next move might be after a court date next month in the continuing Deflategate saga starring Tom Brady.

And women will no doubt be heartened to know that the commissioner was "encouraging" the teams not to rip off their cheerleaders, who are paid a pittance.

But if that sounded like a tone-deaf, back-of-the-hand answer to a question, consider how Goodell ended the session responding to a question asking if he felt comfortable about encouraging parents to have their kids play football after seven high school players nationally who died of injuries suffered in games or practices this season.

"There's risk in life," he said. "There's risk of sitting on the couch."

Ah, yes. But there is one walk of life in which there is no risk: Owning an NFL franchise. Like the line in the hit musical Evita, "And the money kept rolling in."

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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