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Goodell talks Super Bowl, CBA, player safety with Theismann

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared on The Joe Theismann Radio Show on ESPN 980 in Washington D.C., on Jan. 4. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Was there any concern when you moved the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl this year?

With anything, there are positives and negatives. The challenge is to not to let the negatives overrule the positives, and we have seen so many positives to rotating the Super Bowl. Frankly, we spent so much time talking to our players about the positives and the negatives and trying to get some input through the Player Advisory Committee that I have. They all felt that it was something worth doing, to give us a chance to promote the game, put our players on a bigger stage as a lead-up to the Super Bowl, and bring it back to the mainland on some kind of rotating basis. It's been a positive so far. We've already sold more tickets to the Pro Bowl than we have in Hawaii in the past, so it's been a positive so far.

Would you anticipate that the game will rotate back to Honolulu at some point?

The good news is we're going back to Hawaii next year and the following year. The two big changes, which you know, were not only changing the date so it's in advance of the Super Bowl, but second, bringing it to the mainland here. We're going back to Hawaii. The question will be whether we continue to have the game in advance of the Super Bowl or go back to the old format or some other format.

On the status of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the possibility of a lockout:

The good news is that the owners' representation and players' representation are talking. There's another meeting this week and they've had a series of meetings, and I think that's productive because people are understanding the issues and I think everyone's grasping that this is an opportunity to restructure the agreement in a way that can allow the game to continue to grow. It will be good for the players, it will be good for the game and the fans overall. That discussion is going on. As far as a lockout, that's a long way off if it ever happens. Hopefully it won't. I think there will be a tremendous effort on both parts to try to do everything to avoid that kind of an issue. It's becoming increasingly likely we'll get to an uncapped year based on where we are, but we'll keep working at it and hopefully get something done.

What's your greatest fear of an uncapped year?

I don't know if I look at it in that context. When the negotiations took place in 2006 a number of things were put in place with the anticipation that there could be an uncapped year that would be collectively bargained and that would restrict the movements of the players so that the competitiveness of the game would continue. I think those are proving to be very true, and you know many of those rules -- free agency going from four to six and a number of other changes as far as player movement that, as I say, were collectively bargained. You want to make sure the game stays strong through this. I think those rules will have a tremendous impact if we get to an uncapped year and will keep the game strong. I think our issue is just trying to get an agreement here from a long-term standpoint that will allow the game to continue to grow. I think that's the owners' objective and I think it's the players' objective, and hopefully we'll be able to get to some conclusion here quickly.

Is there anything you can do with the quality of play during the last couple of regular-season games when teams have the playoffs locked up?

I think it's hard to tell people you have to play some guys. I think the issue we're trying to create, and it's the same concept with the preseason also as with the late regular-season games, is incentives to have the highest-quality product on the field. The integrity of the league and the integrity of our competition is the most critical issue for us, and we cannot abandon that. We've got to make sure we maintain that. So we're going to give a great deal of thought to how we continue to make all of our competition the highest level and create incentives to win every game and to play the best available players so that we can continue to put the best product on the field. How you do that is still a question. I don't have a solution yet, but it's something that our Madden committee has already begun to look at and the competition committee will as soon as the season's complete.

I know one of your big things is player safety. The emphasis on rules has really been directed to hits. Do you feel that the players are getting the message as well as the coaches teaching player safety?

I've often said we're going through a cultural change here. Through the last several decades, there's always been an emphasis on player safety. There are certain techniques from time to time that have developed and you take them out of the game. You know it -- whether it's head slapping or cut blocks -- there's been a lot of things that have been taken out of the game that haven't changed the game. I think that's the stage we're in. We're seeing some head contact and some techniques. We've had the launching in recent years that I think has been removed, to a large extent, from the game. We believe that those techniques that go to the head are dangerous both for the player doing the hitting plus the player that gets hit. We think we've made some significant changes in this past offseason that have changed the way players are being contacted and have made the game safer, but it's still a rough game. The hit on Pat White Sunday was a very, very tough hit. We have to keep enforcing to the players that we want to make this game as safe as possible. It's a rough game but there are ways in which we can make this safer for the participants, and that's important to us.

All of the equipment, medical treatment and analysis is much better today but you're not going to be able to avoid hitting -- that's the nature of our game.

There's no question, but I think in any sport you have that physical contact. That's something that happens in any kind of high-velocity sport. You're going to have injuries and you're going to have potential head injuries. As you point out, you want to do everything you can through the rules to prevent them from happening. If they happen, you want to make sure you take a very conservative medical approach, which the NFL has, and hopefully we're encouraging other levels of sports in general, much less football, to take the same approach with these injuries. It's important to do everything we can here, but we're all learning a lot more about head injuries and making sure that we deal with them in a conservative and safe fashion.

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