A day after the NFL broadened the helmet-hit rule, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expanded on the decision the league hopes will help make the game safer.
"Our focus is how to take the head out of the game and make sure that we're using the helmet as protection, and it's not being used as a weapon, and that's the core of what we're focused on, and I think we made a tremendous amount of progress in that this week," Goodell said at the conclusion of the Annual League Meeting in Orlando on Wednesday.
Following the announcement of the rule, many current and former players took issue with the change, concerned about how it might alter football. Goodell said that the next phase of the process is to educate players and coaches on what will be a penalty moving forward.
"Everyone's enthusiastically behind this and in support of this," Goodell said, noting coaches were involved with the decision to change the rule. "We understand that the players still are. ... They haven't yet seen all the data that we have and they haven't seen exactly how we're going to approach this. But I'm confident in the next few months, we'll be able to do that. They'll understand, and our game will be in a much better place for it."
Under the broadened rule, offending players would be penalized for lowering their heads and leading with the crown of their helmets to initiate contact against an opponent on any play. A 15-yard penalty would be assessed and players may be disqualified depending on the severity of the hit. Goodell said replay will be used to determine whether a player should be ejected from the game.
"I think it was [Patriots] Coach [Bill] Belichick who first raised it, but if we're able to have replay to confirm when there's one of these fouls that we think should be removed from the game and that also confirms whether someone should be ejected, I think there's a great deal of more confidence among the coaches that it'll be done consistently and fairly," he said. "And I think it also gives the officials more confidence to be able to make those judgments because they know there will be some type of video input in that. I actually think that the coaches and the clubs and our officials all collectively feel that that is an appropriate thing to do. And it is the first time we've used replay for safety and I think that's a positive thing. As [Competition Committee Chairman] Rich [McKay] said, it's the first time we've used replay in respect to any kind of a foul, but we think that's warranted for safety-related issues."
The commissioner added that the league is still determining what types of helmet hits would warrant an ejection versus a 15-yard penalty.
"That's exactly the work we need to do over the next few weeks," he said. "We've done a great deal of work on this, but now we want to go back and look at what's that standard of when it'll go from a disqualification of a player to a fine or suspension or any other alternative from there. That's the work that we're going to be doing, and that's the work that we'll be educating our clubs back in May and June with the clubs individually."
Other notes from Roger Goodell's press conference at the NFL's Annual League Meeting:**
On ownership discussions regarding the national anthem policy:
"The real focus of the meeting on the social justice was passing, which we did unanimously, the last piece of our program that we worked out with the Players' Coalition, which was to create a platform to address the issues which the players had raised, that they're passionate about. And the ownership wanted to support them. And so I think we've really come together in a unique program to support the players and to work between the teams and the players to address those issues in the communities. That was the vast majority of our conversation over the last couple days. There was some discussion on the anthem but only in the context of "Is this the platform in which to help the players address these issues in their communities and make sure we're in a better place?"
"The 32 teams make their individual decisions on the players that they think are going to best help their franchises. Those are decisions that they have to make. They do that every day. They do that with the best interest of winning and putting the best franchises together. And they'll make those decisions. I'm not directly involved with those."
On the progress in the sale of the Carolina Panthers:
"The sale process is moving along. I've talked to Jerry (Richardson) as well as leadership team about that process. It's moving along with unprecedented interest and we're excited by that. And I would expect that they will come to a conclusion sometime so that, the potential is and the hope is that we could be able to vote as a league in May."
"I look at it more broadly than that. I think our efforts in this area we have to look at more broadly because I think it's not just about the Rooney Rule, our efforts never were just about the Rooney Rule. I think it's an important element. There's a fundamental aspect to that. But I think it's much broader than that in the sense that how do we create the opportunities and how do we do everything to help train and give people the experience to advance their careers. And to do that with a tremendous focus on diversity so we have the best people performing at the highest levels in the league. And that's a core value of who we are and what we do. I think that's going to come in multiple forms beyond just the Rooney Rule. Are we going to look at the Rooney Rule and see if we can improve that? Absolutely. Are we going to look at some of the training methods to give those coaches and GMs and officials and every other aspect of our operation, better opportunities to expand their roles and to go to another level? That's what we do very well and I think we'll look at all that."
On the NFL's stance on potential Supreme Court ruling that could legalize sports gambling:
"Well, I don't have any insight into what the Supreme Court is going to do. We're not privy to that. I think what we did this week was make sure people understood the, I would call it, prospects and potential for how gambling can change, in part because of the Supreme Court decision, how it's evolved on its own beyond that. And this isn't new work. We've been focusing on this for several years of how does it affect the way we operate. The number one thing which was endorsed repeatedly by our membership was the integrity of our game though. We have to make sure that whatever environment we're working in -- and some of that might be related to what the Supreme Court decides, some of it may be future legislation - we need to make sure we're operating in an environment where we can protect that integrity of our game. We recognize that we're dealing in an environment here where we don't know what the Supreme Court is going to do and we don't know how other issues are going to resolve, but we wanted to make sure our clubs fully understood what we're doing to make sure we're prepared for that."