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Roger Goodell says current players have best health care in world

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that current players are provided with the world's best health benefits.

"We had lots of discussions about that in the collective bargaining process," Goodell said. "We went back and improved a lot of our health benefits, both for former players and for current players to the point that I believe the health benefits provided are the best in the world."

Goodell was speaking during his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference in New York. He responded to a question from San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who was representing The Monday Morning Quarterback, a website of Sports Illustrated.

Davis asked why the players have to fight for health benefits and why the league doesn't offer free health care for life.

"I'm proud with what we've been able to do with the union in improving those benefits. We still have a lot of work to do for former players," Goodell said. "The cost of providing health benefits for every player that has ever played in the league was discussed within the (Players Association) unit. It was determined that these changes were the best changes. That's what we negotiated.

"But we're all proud of the efforts that we made. We will continue to make more efforts and do a better job, particularly with our former players in providing them opportunities and to give them the proper health care.

Goodell reminded the media that the NFL provides the "88 Plan," which reimburses some medical expenses of former players with neurological disorders.

"That's there for the players and their families for a lifetime," he said. "So we have programs that are addressing those issues that we have created and the owners have created on their own. We also have several that were created with the (NFLPA) unit."

At the Player Health and Safety news conference, Goodell discussed Thursday's announcement that concussions were down 13 percent this season over last season. He attributed that to rules changes, more concussion awareness and better health care standards for football.

"We've made changes to the rules, we've made changes to our equipment, and there's been changes in the way we deal with concussions when they do occur," he said. "We try to do everything we can to prevent them, but when they do occur we manage them effectively.

"More broadly, I think it's a reflection of the culture. There is greater awareness, there is a more conservative approach, over a long period of time, and we have added other elements that will identify this injury."

He said he thinks concussion rates had been going up until recently because of concussion awareness. But now they are falling because of better management of head injuries.

"There is that acknowledgement that those injuries were occurring, players were coming forward, and we have worked harder to get them to come forward, but also have systems in place to identify them even if they don't come forward," he said. "I give a great deal of credit to our medical teams, and to our clubs, and to our players.

"The culture is changing, and changing for the better. The game is safer, it is more exciting, and it is more popular than ever."

In other player health and safety topics addressed during the press conference, Goodell said:

  • He is confident that the concussion settlement between the league and former players will be approved. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody has delayed the proposed $765-million settlement, questioning if there is enough funding in the agreement.

He said the "settlement we reached can provide the kind of benefits intended, and I'm confident we'll get there."

  • The league has expanded its relationship with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in efforts to stem incidents like that of former Dallas Cowboys lineman Josh Brent.

Goodell said the league is proud of its relationship with MADD.

"We use it, not only in our parking lots to help our fans to get in and out of the facilities safely and more aware to what's happening around them," he said. "In addition, we want to do more with the education of our teams. That includes front offices. That includes the players and the coaches. And it includes our offices. We recently had a MADD event in our office.

"We have to recognize in the NFL that we're on a big stage, and when something happens that reflects poorly on us, that's a negative for all of us. And MADD has been a great partner in educating us. The number one point that they make to me is that these are 100 percent preventable, and that's all we have to do is be a little more mindful of it and take the proper steps to avoid these types of tragedies from happening. And that's our responsibility."

  • Goodell, who said he has been randomly tested for drugs and passed, told the audience that the NFL is not ready to end testing for marijuana.

"It is still an illegal substance on a national basis," he said. "It is something that is part of our collective bargaining agreement with our players. It is questionable with respect to the positive impact, but there's certainly some very strong evidence to the negative impacts, including addiction and other issues.

"So we'll continue to follow the medicine. Experts right now are not indicating that we should change our policy in any way. We are not actively considering that at this point in time. But if it does down the road sometime, that's something we would never take off the table if it can benefit our players at the end of the day. So I don't see any change in the near future."

  • The league is examining ways to change the work environment in light of the investigation of the Miami Dolphins' locker room incident.

"Our No. 1 priority has to make sure that we have a workplace environment that's professional, recognizing that we have some unique circumstances," he said. "But we have to make sure that our players, other employees, have that kind of professional workplace environment. I've already begun discussions with outside parties.

"I've discussed it with the union. I've also met with several groups of players individually and then collectively, to talk about the circumstances. What needs to be done? And the No. 1 thing I hear, and the No. 1 I believe, is we have to get back to respect. It's respect for each other, respect for the game, respect for your organizations, respect for your opponents, the game officials, so we're going to focus on this in the offseason."

  • There is a possibility of instant replay moving into the NFL's New York Command Center and away from the referees on the sidelines.

"We think there's plenty of opportunity to improve the game of football and officiating in particular. What we all want is consistency, fairness in our officiating. And we believe that we might be able to achieve more consistency with instant replay when there's more of a centralized version and decision-making process," he said. "And that's something the competition committee is going to consider over the next two months and come back to a recommendation for the membership.

"I do believe there's a possibility that some version of that will occur where our office can at least be involved with the decision. (The Command Center) may not make the decision but at least can provide some input that would be helpful to the officials on the field to make sure they're seeing every angle to make sure they have the proper opportunity to make the best decision."

Click here to see the PDF release from the press conference.

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