NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell touched upon many topics during his Friday afternoon's "state of the league" address, including player safety, improving the "Rooney Rule" and his hope to have an HGH testing program in place for the 2013 season.
"I believe that HGH testing is going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season," Goodell said. "It’s the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game. It’s also the right thing to do to send the right message to everybody else in sports. You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The science is there. There is no question about that. [Major League] Baseball, Olympics, everyone believes that the science is there and are utilizing the tests, so we need to get to that agreement."
One issue that players have taken issue with is the league's system for imposing fines, particularly for hits on defenseless players. According to CSN Baltimore, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed suggested on Thursday that Goodell "needs more help at the fining process and not just have do-boys that want to please you".
Goodell has not backed down from the criticism, reiterating the intention of league discipline - to take certain tackling techniques out of the game - and suggested that discipline could increase moving forward.
"This is something that we have seen, an escalation in the discipline, because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game," said Goodell. "I think it was about four years ago at this very press conference, I said, ‘We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries.’ The focus was on defenseless players, and I stand by our record because I think we have made those changes and made the game safer. I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders.
"It’s not just the player, the defenseless player, that’s being protected; it’s the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate. Taking these hits out of the game can be positive. The most effective way of doing that, and I’m not for it because we want to see all of our players on the field, is when they are repeat offenders and they are involved with these dangerous techniques, that we’re going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them. It’s gets through on the basis that they don’t want to let their teammates down, and they want to be on the field. We want to see them on the field.
"We’re going to continue to emphasize the importance of following those rules. When there are violations, we will escalate the discipline."
Another key issue, particularly as all 32 teams will be in the offseason on Monday, is DUI arrests.
"The reality is we have to do a better job of educating people in the NFL that this is a priority," Goodell said of DUI arrests. "This is for your safety, for the safety of the people in your car, and for innocent people that are out there. There are services designed to help them make better decisions before they leave their homes. We have to make sure that they understand those services, and most importantly, take advantage of them, use them."
Goodell also said the league needs to enhance the scope of the "Rooney Rule".
"First, the Rooney Rule has been very effective over the last decade, but we have to look to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. What’s going to take us to another level? We’re committed to finding that answer," Goodell said.
"There was full compliance with the Rooney Rule. There were, in fact, I believe, a record number of interviews. But we didn’t have the outcomes that we wanted, and the outcomes are to make sure that we have full diversity throughout our coaching ranks, throughout our executive ranks, and throughout the league office. It’s very important to the success of the league to do that, and we’re committed to finding those solutions."
With the Super Bowl taking place in New Orleans, Goodell was naturally asked about the league's handling of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program. Though the players suspensions were reduced by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a decision the current commissioner disagrees with, Goodell has no regrets about how the league handled the situation.
"Let me just take a moment and get back and make sure everyone is clear on the record. There is no question there was a bounty program in place for three years," said Goodell. "I think that that is bad for the players, for the game, and I think the message is incredibly clear, and I don’t believe that bounties will be part of football going forward. That’s good for everybody. I do think that message has come through clear. As it relates to the regrets, I think my biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game to make the game safer. Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union, and with others. That is something we are going to be incredibly relentless on."