NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made his way to Southern California on Thursday to attend a special event at the NFL Media offices in Culver City. NFL.com's Steve Wyche sat down with the commissioner to discuss a myriad of topics, including the crown-of-the-helmet rule, Tim Tebow's future and homosexuality in sports. Here is a transcript of their conversation:
Diversity in hiring: 'This is about opportunity'
Wyche: I want to start with this week's career development symposium at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business (which featured two representatives from each team, among other NFL power brokers). What has been the initial feedback on the reinstatement of this program -- aimed at aspiring head coach and general manager candidates -- after a five-year hiatus?
Goodell: Well, I was down there yesterday. The reaction I've gotten from the participants -- both the individuals that were there to learn and to grow and improve their skill sets and the people who were there to share their views on how to manage your careers and how to develop in the NFL -- was outstanding. People thought it was informative -- very productive for them -- as they looked ahead to how they develop further in the NFL. We're very proud of it and think that it's going to be a great program.
Wyche: Who do you think got the most out of the event? The potential applicants, the coaches, the team executives?
Goodell: It's an interesting question. I think that happens a lot when you go into something thinking you're there to help somebody else, and you end up getting more (out of it). One of the strong principles that I believe in is that you're always learning, whether you're a commissioner, a current general manager, a president or an owner, or somebody that's trying to become a general manger or a coach in the NFL. You have to continue to learn. That's how you develop. So the people who show that curiosity, that ambition, that willingness to do what it takes to improve and to get better, they're the people who are going to be successful in the long term.
Wyche: Now, I know this was an open platform for everyone, but I also know part of the idea was to help foster some diversity after the 0-for-15 this offseason. Do you think this is going to help improve things going forward? Other than this -- and I know you've also talked, in league meetings, about teams not necessarily squashing opportunities for people to interview -- are there any more plans in place?
Goodell: This is about opportunity, creating opportunity and creating the best executives that we possibly can. And we have some tremendous talent in this league, at all levels. What we want to do is foster that growth and give them the opportunity to be able to step into positions with more responsibility -- things that they want in their career goals. That's what we're trying to do. So I think this is a huge step. It's not going to be the only step. We're going to continue to take additional steps that will, again, try to improve the opportunities for our executives and our coaches so that they can continue to make a bigger impact on the NFL.
Wyche: Will the additional steps be in place, do you think, before the next hiring cycle?
Goodell: Sure, and they'll be ongoing. Again, working with individuals, following up on these meetings, additional educational platforms; this is not something that's going to be solvable in a symposium or in two symposiums. What we have to do is make this part -- and I believe it is -- part of our culture, and part of our values, which diversity is. We believe it's good business. We think it's great for our employees and the people that make the NFL great.
Crown-of-the-helmet rule: 'Players are going to have to work harder'
Wyche: Next subject: The crown-of-the-helmet rule. Are officials going through any type of training this offseason, or is there something in place to guide them on how you'd like to see this officiated? That was kind of the big question spawning from this change. It's such a bang-bang thing -- how is this going to be officiated?
Goodell: Well, the answer is yes. Through the months of work that the competition committee did, and working with other coaches, we developed video tape which we have shared with the clubs. They will in turn be sharing it with their coaching staffs and with their players. We will use the same video tape for educating our officials, making sure that they're all looking at the same examples and the same instructions of what we're looking to take out of the game. That technique of using the crown of your helmet, the top of your helmet, is a dangerous technique, which we think we can take out of the game. We'll coach it out, which is what the coaches really focus on more -- we have to coach it out. If it does come out in the game, then we need to do what we need to do as far as penalizing it and possibly some discipline beyond that.
Wyche: Now, I understand the safety issues, but one of the concerns you hear from players is the play at the goal line or at the sticks for a first down. If it's in open field and they drop that head to get into the end zone, points have to come off of the board.
Goodell: Steve, you've got to deal with facts. So let's be careful with where we're talking about where it's going to happen. Let's get the rule and make sure we understand the rule. There really are (specific elements) that need to be part of this. It's got to be the lowering of the head and the striking of the head, the crown of the head. Yes, it has to be outside of the tackle box, but it has to be a deliberate attempt, either from the offensive or defensive (side) to strike a blow using the crown of the helmet. That is what we're looking for, and there are very few examples of it. So everyone jumps and says, well this and that. Let's deal with the facts. Let's look at the rule, make sure you understand it. If you haven't seen the video tape, we can show you.
Wyche: I've seen the tape, I'm just trying to say, players come through here asking questions.
Goodell: Well, players haven't had a chance to be in camp to see it. So again, we want people to play this game safely and intelligently. Those techniques are not part of football, any coach will tell you that. So the debate with the coaches wasn't, "Yeah, we've got to coach this out of the game. We've got to get back to using the shoulder." The debate was only how will it be officiated, which is true with any rule change, frankly. They want to know how it's going to be officiated.
Wyche: So much of the crown-of-the-helmet focus has been on the offensive player, the ball carrier, but it's a defensive play, as well.
Goodell: As I've said to you before, it's both players. Using the top of the helmet is not just a potential for a head injury, but also a spinal cord injury. And it's a dangerous technique. As I say, coaches will tell you, whether you're on offense or defense, "We don't teach that play." They have to work harder, players are going to have to work harder, officials are. We're all going to have to work harder to contribute to making sure we get that play out of the game. And not just at the NFL level, at all levels of play.
Wyche: Yes. Heads Up Football is a good program. It was good to see the USA Football ambassador training in Indianapolis.
Goodell: I think the Heads Up program is going to be very beneficial for all levels of football. When we do something at the NFL level, it affects every level of football, and that's a good thing.
South Florida stadium: 'We do want to see the Dolphins stay in Miami'
Wyche: I wanted to ask you quickly about the Miami Dolphins' stadium issue. After the renovation bill was rejected by Florida lawmakers, we saw team owner Stephen Ross and CEO Mike Dee say, Hey, this is a huge blow to having Super Bowls in Miami and the future could look bleak as far as Super Bowls and maybe even the team staying there. What are the league's concerns, if there are any, with the South Florida stadium issue. Is it maybe not getting Super Bowls? Is it Ross possibly selling the team and a potential relocation? Has it gotten that far in the discussion?
Goodell: No, I think the disappointment is that the local officials in the Miami-Dade County region had worked very hard with the Dolphins to come up with a proposal that was very intelligent, very thoughtful. I was there on the day that the Senate passed the (bill) 35 to 4, and we met with members of the House. I think the frustration is it never had the opportunity to go to the voters. This was targeted for a referendum, I believe, yesterday, or next week, excuse me. I think the voters deserved the opportunity to evaluate the proposal, and make the kinds of changes that Steve Ross and the county and city officials had proposed. We think that would be good for the community, we think it would be good for the stadium and we think it would be good for the team.
Wyche: From the league point of view, do you think you'll get involved now? Kind of like you did in Minnesota, to try to get the politicians to get this on the ground again. Is this a dead issue? Where exactly is this?
Top 100 Players of 2013
Goodell: Again, I was involved. I went down to Tallahassee myself before the legislative session ended. Of course we will stay involved. We will do whatever is necessary, because we do think it's right for all of Florida. We think it's particularly good for the Miami-Dade area. It will help attract bigger events, and that will have a real economic impact on the community.
Wyche: Any fear in this talk that things look bleak and relocation could be possible, folks kind of floating those things out there? Is that a concern? Do you want to see the Dolphins stay in Miami?
Goodell: We do want to see the Dolphins stay in Miami. We want to see them stay in a facility that will allow them to compete, and to bring in other big events, including Super Bowls. That takes work, it takes investment, and Steve Ross was doing the investing and was really the guy who was putting his heart and soul into this and his passion into this. What's frustrating is that it didn't get a chance to get to the voters.
On Tim Tebow: 'I hope he's part of the NFL moving forward'
Wyche: Quickly, a Tim Tebow question: With all of the attention this guy gets -- be it good, bad or indifferent -- is it good to have Tim Tebow in the NFL?
Goodell: Well, he's a great young man. And I try to stay out of the decisions about who should be playing in the NFL and on what team. But as a young man, he's just a super young guy, and I sure hope he's part of the NFL going forward. He's just a terrific young man and represents all of the values that I think all of our players do. I'm very proud of our players. I think, as a group, they're extraordinary young men, and I love to see the things they're doing in the community. They're obviously great athletes on the field, but these are great young men, and Tim's a good example of that.
Homosexuality in NFL: 'I think it will be accepted'
Wyche: Lastly, we saw NBA player Jason Collins come out as gay. It's been a topic of conversation around the NFL, whether or not a player could come out in today's league. Do you expect a player to come out, now that Jason Collins maybe has spearheaded the way? And do you think a player will be accepted? Because you saw a lot of the positive feedback Collins received came from NFL players on Twitter and whatnot.
Goodell: Yes. Again, I have such great respect for our players. I don't think it will just be tolerated, I think it will be accepted. These are individuals who play in our league. We're all different in some fashion, and we're accepting of our differences. That's what this is all about. To me, if it happens in the league, that's a personal choice that someone would decide to do. But I know their teammates and teams, and I think the fans, will all respond the right way.