SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A much more relaxed Roger Goodell delivered his Super Bowl state-of-the-league address on Friday than the under-fire NFL commissioner who last year was left to defend his job performance following string of scandals.
A year ago, as the NFL lurched from crisis-to-crisis, there was open speculation whether Goodell was still the man to lead the league following a timid response to domestic violence cases involving players.
Back then, the league was wrestling with a concussion crisis while a relocation debate raged and the Super Bowl was about to be played under a cloud as the NFL conducted an investigation into the use of under-inflated footballs by New England in a win over the Indianapolis Colts that secured the Patriots a spot in the championship game.
But on Friday, having weathered the storm, Goodell was still in charge and charting the NFL course which will, among other things, have the league return to Mexico City for the first time since 2005 for the first Monday Night Game played outside the United States, featuring the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans.
Goodell said the health of players was a top priority.
The National Football League last week said there were 182 reported concussions this past season, a rise of 58 percent over 2014 after two seasons of declining incidents.
Despite the alarming statistics and mounting evidence, Goodell said that if he had a son, he would love him to play football.
“There’s risks in life. There’s risks to sitting on the couch,” explained Goodell.
“What we want to do is get people active and want them to experience the game of football because the game of football will teach you the values ... The discipline, the teamwork, the perseverance, those are values and those are skills that will lead you through life, and I believe football is the best to teach that.”
Goodell said the NFL will continue to invest heavily in player safety, studying new technologies in everything from helmets to turf.
The commissioner also pointed to a growing culture shift within the game where players have a greater understanding of symptoms, risks and how to manage them.
”We will continue to look at rules and technology to protect our players,“ said Goodell. ”The concussion issue is something we’ve been focused on for several decades.
”We continue to make rule changes to our game to make the game safer and protect our players from unnecessary injury.
“We’ve had 39 of those rule changes in the last 10 years. We’ve also made tremendous improvements with equipment.”
During the nearly hour long press conference Goodell addressed a variety of subjects, from the league’s position on marijuana, to the future of the Pro Bowl, and allegations that Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning used a banned substance.
Goodell was asked if the NFL had investigated an explosive Al Jazeera documentary that accused Manning and several other players of purchasing human growth hormone.
Manning and the Broncos face the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday.
”When these allegations first came out, we immediately began our own investigation,“ said Goodell. ”We do not have an independent investigation going on at this point other than working with the other leagues and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).
“If we feel that that’s necessary at some point, we may do that. At this point, we don’t.”
Editing by Andrew Both