One of the toughest questions of Roger Goodell on Friday came from a face he recognized well.
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis got his turn and after introducing himself and affiliation of MMQB.com ("I know who you are Vernon," Goodell said. "Glad to have you here."), Davis fired away with a question a lot of current and former players probably want to ask the commissioner.
“Roger, we play the most dangerous and lucrative game, but still we have to fight for health benefits, we have to jump through hoops for it," Davis asked. "Why doesn't the NFL offer free health care for life, especially for those suffering from brain injuries?"
If it was Davis’ plan to put Goodell on the spot and make the moment uncomfortable, it didn’t work.
The NFL commissioner, who is used to being put on the spot, handled the very fair question in a smooth manner. He mentioned a few times that the union had collectively bargained for the health plan that the players have.
“Vernon, first off, we had lots of discussions about that during the collective bargaining process," Goodell said. "We went back and improved a lot of our health benefits, both for former players and for current players, to the point where I think the health benefits that are provided to current NFL players are the best in the world. I'm proud of what we've been able to do with the union in improving those benefits."
While it might be argued that long-term health care for players who can sometimes be significantly damaged physically by the game shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip, the point can also be made that if lifetime health care is the top priority for players, they needed to express that better to the union heads when the collective bargaining agreement was negotiated. Perhaps Davis’ question is better suited for NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith than Goodell.
"The cost of trying to provide health care for every player that has ever played in the league was discussed with the union," Goodell said as he continued to answer Davis. "It was determined these changes were the best changes, and that's what we negotiated."
Goodell admitted the need to do more with the former players, but brought up the "88 Plan" for former players suffering from dementia, which offers $88,000 per player annually for medical and custodial care.
Davis or anyone else might not have liked the answer, but Goodell wasn't going to be thrown off by the question, even from a Pro Bowl tight end.
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