Q&A: Roger Goodell stands ground with union on HGH testing

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday he will not take himself out of the appeals process for human growth hormone (HGH) testing.

Goodell's statement came during an interview with Andrea Kremer, NFL Media's chief health and safety correspondent, in Baltimore after the league announced the Head Health Challenge II.

In an interview that airs Thursday on NFL Network's "NFL AM," they discussed a wide range of subjects, including the recent $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries with retired players and injury concerns of current players. And they discussed HGH testing, which has led to a standoff between the NFL and the Players Association.

Andrea Kremer: "Your legacy as commissioner is arguably player health and safety. How vital was this settlement to the future of the game?"

Roger Goodell: "Well those are two different issues. First off, I'm not focused on legacies. At any point in time of being commissioner seven years, people said my legacy was going to be something else."

Kremer: "... It's been your issue though, your initiative ... "

Goodell: "It's very important to me. I think it's fundamental to what we do. But we've also done a lot of other things that have made the game better and made the game safer and also, I think have really helped fans enjoy the game more. But for this, and the settlement, it was important for us to be able to get the help to players immediately, or as soon as possible. Because if we had litigated these issues, it probably would've been 10 or 12 years down the road. A lot of monies would've gone to attorneys. We had a mediator, Judge (Layn) Phillips, who was very aggressive and helped us form an agreement, that said 'Hey, let's find a basis here, a consensus where we can, say, let's put a fund together that's going to help players and help their families,' and that's what we've created. And I think that's a good thing for the players and their families, but I also think it's a good thing for the game."

Kremer: "There was no admission of guilt, why was that important to getting the settlement done?"

Goodell: "Because we don't believe there is any guilt here. We don't believe necessarily that this is caused by football. But we all want to do what's right for the players. We want to make the game safer. And what we wanted to do is create that fund that would allow players who are having cognitive diseases, no matter the cause -- the cause is not the issue for us, it's to get them help."

Kremer: "But don't parents want to know what the cause is?"

Goodell: "But that's what science has to answer. And science ... That's why we're investing. That's why we're pioneering research. That's why we're investing $100 million with the players association. We put $30 million to the (National Institutes for Health). It's why we're here today with the second phase of our GE Initiative. Because we're trying to invest and let science answer those questions. We don't have the answer. The one thing that all the doctors will tell you, and you've talked to them also, is that the doctors have to learn more about the brain. And we don't know an awful lot about the brain."

Kremer: "But ultimately, it's the NFL and then it trickles down through college, through high school, to youth and it always comes down to the same thing: I have a 13 year old son. How do you convince me that it's safe for my son to play football?"

Goodell: "Because we have the rules of the game. We have made the game safer. We take these techniques out. We have taught the right techniques of keeping your head up and tackling properly. We have worked, tried to address the issues and we still have work to do."

Kremer: "But what is the 'work to do?' "

Goodell: "But the game is safe ... To keep changing the rules. To keep innovating on equipment. To get the right kind of equipment and make sure kids are wearing the right kind of equipment. I have two nephews that I went to watch practice in Maine a couple of weeks ago and talked to parents. They love their kids playing football. There's risk/reward with any activity. There's risk with sitting on your couch. Obesity is a far more dangerous issue for our children right now. We need to get our kids out playing, and the rewards of playing football are extraordinary. And when I played football for nine years, I wouldn't give up a single day of that because what I learned about myself, my teammates, the importance of teamwork, about the broader goals of a team. (They) are all lessons that I use in my job right now and are part of my character today.

Kremer: "There's a perception -- for some even wishful thinking -- that now that the lawsuit has been settled that the emphasis on concussion management will be lessened. What are health and safety initiatives that you look ahead to for this season?"

Goodell: "We just announced a settlement last week and we're announcing our next phase of our GE Initiative. Again, to try and pioneer research to make the game safer. It is fundamental to what we are. We have done that throughout our evolution, throughout the game. Even before the NFL existed, it was done in college football. How do you continue to make our game safer? Not just football and not just at the NFL level, but at all levels and in all sports, and beyond sports and onto the battlefield. That's what we do, and so we're going to continue that. We're going to continue that at an aggressive pace because we're making a difference, making the game safer and better. And I've never been more optimistic about the game of football."

Kremer: "There is a sense that you're trading concussions for lower leg injuries. We saw what happened with tight end Dustin Keller and the player who hit him, DJ Swearinger was quoted as saying, 'With the rules in this era, you've got to hit low. If I hit him high I would've gotten fined.' What do you say to the players who say, 'Hey, I'd rather take a risk on a concussion than having the risk of my season, possibly career, ending with a torn ACL, with a leg injury?' "

Goodell: "Andrea, this is something, when we make rules, the Competition Committee, we study the rules in depth through coaches, general managers, our personnel, and we always look at the unintended consequences. And whenever you make a rule change, what will that cause a player to do? Will it change the way they play? Will they go low? Will they go high? There's a lot of area, a lot of target area to hit, between the head and the knees. And that's what we're teaching and that's what we're teaching our coaches. Our coaching it and our players are learning how to play that game. You're going to get hit in the knee, you're going [to get hit] in the head. That's why you have protective material. But we do not want that targeted. And we're not seeing that. We're not seeing an increase in injuries of low hits. So you use one example, but there's thousands of plays in a year, Andrea. So that's not -- to take one example -- is not appropriate."

Kremer: "But the numbers are not set, we have to wait and see what happens during the season. But you know how the players get concerned about these things and it gets magnified."

Goodell: "Well, players have to understand the rules. They have to be coached properly and use the proper techniques. And that's what we're teaching and that's why the game is safer and better than it has been."

Kremer: "What is holding up HGH testing?"

Goodell: "You know Andrea, I wish I could tell you. We have tried everything we can to compromise on a variety of issues. We didn't believe a population study was necessarily the right course, but we agreed to do it to answer those questions. We have agreed to third-party arbitration. We have compromised on a lot of areas without compromising on the integrity of the program. We believe it's the right thing for the safety of the players. We believe it's the right thing for the game. We think it's the right thing to send a message to the youth, that this is out. It's time to get this done. We agreed to this in the Collective Bargaining Agreement two years ago. We have worked to address all these issues, and we believe we've done that."

Kremer: "But discipline, that is not triggered by a positive test. You still want that under your purview. Why is it so important for you to retain that power of discipline?"

Goodell: "Andrea, that's personal conduct. That's now a violation of law, is what we call it. A third-party has already had to acknowledge that there was a violation of law. That's a reputational issue. That now is something reflects on the NFL, the players, and everybody involved in our game including our fans. And so, we are not going to relent on the Commissioner's discipline or the discipline to make sure that we do what's reputationally important for the NFL or hand that off to somebody else. We've agreed to do third-party arbitration in circumstances where it's specific to a drug test. Is there a violation? Is there not a violation? Was there proper handling of the samples? Those are appropriate things, and we have agreed to that in this."

Kremer: "So the deadline for baseline testing in preseason has come and gone. So what are the prospects for testing for HGH in 2013?"

Goodell: "Well, we believe we can start the testing program immediately. We just need the agreement from the union that we're ready to go. We had two remaining issues: The violations of law and second offenses. We agreed to compromise on the second offenses, but we're not going to compromise on the other issue. We've done that and we're not going to compromise on things either we negotiated fairly in our Collective Bargaining Agreement that are outside of this, or that we think are going to impact the on the integrity of the program."

Kremer: "This is always the time of the season when there are prognostications. So I ask you for a Super Bowl prognostication, I ask you for, what do you think from a player health and safety standpoint, we should look for this football season?"

Goodell: "Well. you know I had a long conversation with John Madden last Friday. We spoke for an hour talking about how the changes that we made in the rules, the equipment, the awareness, have really taken hold. That the players are adjusting, the coaches are adjusting, and the game is better. And that is going to be great for the players, it's going to be great for the game, and it's going to be great for the fans. So I believe that the changes we're making are working, and as I said, I've never been more optimistic about the game of football because of the initiatives we're taking."

Kremer: "And because the concussion lawsuit has been settled?"

Goodell: "I've never been more optimistic for the game of football by what's happening on the field, Andrea. That's what I'm optimistic about. Not only on the NFL field, but every field. That's what I'm optimistic about."

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