"My first thoughts weren't about football at all," Goodell said, recalling when he heard the news last Saturday morning. "This is not a football tragedy. It's a human tragedy that impacts families, loved ones and an innocent child left behind."
That innocent child is Zoey, the 3-month-old daughter now without a mother or father. The NFL has a trust in place for her, based on the NFL's current collective bargaining agreement, that will provide for her through college. As to the game, Goodell said that he consulted with the Chiefs before making his final decision. Kansas City won that game, 27-21, and quarterback Brady Quinn put together an improbably excellent performance that earned him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
"It was ultimately my decision. But it was important to get the views of the players and try to honor their wishes. [Chiefs chairman] Clark [Hunt] got back to me and said [Coach] Romeo [Crennel] and the captains felt that playing the game—being together as a team and a community—was important. So that's exactly what we did."
Now, Goodell must find a way to address the need for trustworthy and confidential counseling for players who feel they need it, but don't want any perceived psychological issues affecting their place on the roster.
In more general NFL subjects, the TIME article revealed a possible plan to eliminate kickoffs from pro football altogether.
TIME sat in on meeting between Goodell and Rich McKay, head of the NFL's powerful competition committee. Goodell brought up a proposal promoted by Greg Schiano, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: after a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the ball on its own 30-yard line, where it's fourth-and-15. The options are either to go for it and try to retain possession, or punt. If you go for it and fall short, the opposing team would take over with good field position. In essence, punts would replace kickoffs, and punts are less susceptible to violent collisions than kickoffs.
"It's a much different end of the play…It's an off-the-wall idea," Goodell said. "It's different and makes you think differently. It did me."
Of course, player safety came up. And of course, there are players who feel that the league's current focus on the elimination of violence from the game is an impossible, but elaborate, sell job.
"Really a lack of accountability from the top down," New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of Goodell's tenure as commissioner. "Also, I feel like, in large part, this bounty scandal, so to speak, is a big facade and a way to cover up the shortcomings of the league with regard to player health and safety over the last three years."
Goodell, as you might expect, had a different take on the general subject, and the Saints bounty scandal to which Brees refers.
"I don't do things for public relations," Goodell told TIME. "I do things because they're the right thing to do, because I love the game … If you want to do the popular thing, be a cheerleader."
Doing things in the name of legal damage control? That's a different subject. More than 4,000 former NFL players have attached their names to lawsuits claiming that the NFL knew of the dangers of concussions for decades and did nothing to make the game safer. Goodell says that he's currently managing a precarious balancing act -- to keep the things people love about the game while trying to -- at least in his own mind -- clean things up when it's needed. Many don't like his methods and find the transparency in his process to be lacking.
But as his power grows, Goodell cares less and less about such things.
"A lot of times, you know the right thing to do," Goodell said. "But you have to have the courage to do it. And I think that's harder than it seems."
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