Goodell: 'We have to educate our players ...'
MIAMI -- Roger Goodell has a strong message for NFL players: Stay out of trouble.
Plagued by tragedy and numerous arrests, the NFL's image took a hit this season, though the commissioner doesn't believe it's out of control or irreversible.
"One incident is too many in my book. I think we need to re-evaluate all of our programs. We have a tremendous number of programs that I think have been quite successful to help our players. But I think we've got to do more."
That includes meeting with NFL players' union chief Gene Upshaw and a group of players who can "give us their perspective on what's really happening and what are the issues, so we can try to learn something first."
One player in Sunday's Super Bowl, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson, still faces weapons-related charges and needed permission from an Illinois judge just to travel to the title game against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I don't see it happening in droves. I think it's just a few, but that's a few too many," said Goodell, who replaced Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in September. "We recognize some players don't do what we would hope they do and when that happens, we will be very aggressive in dealing with that."
Though the league's black eye this season was the main topic Friday, he also talked about concussions, insisting a player's health takes precedence over football issues.
Responding to reports that former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson was forced to practice with a concussion, Goodell praised team trainers and league doctors who deal with concussions and said, "I certainly hope that our coaches always are looking out for the medical well-being of the players. I think they encourage that and they want that."
He said he needed more information on the Patriots' situation before commenting directly about it.
"I don't see a conflict of interest with our trainers. I think they are out there for the welfare of the players," Goodell said.
He applauded the players for taking an active role in trying to eliminate use of illegal substances. Goodell also said not allowing players who are suspended under the drug policy to win postseason awards is "a huge priority for us."
San Diego linebacker Shawn Merriman made the All-Pro team, will play in the Pro Bowl and was considered a front-runner for defensive player of the year despite sitting out four games for violating the substance policy. Several players, including Miami end Jason Taylor, who was voted the top defensive player, criticized Merriman receiving such honors.
"Our players are the ones who stood up and said they don't want this in our game and that somebody who violates this doesn't deserve a Pro Bowl spot," Goodell said.
He cited the hiring of Mike Tomlin as coach of the Steelers and the presence of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith as head coaches in the Super Bowl as further proof the "Rooney Rule" on minority hirings is working. Steelers owner Dan Rooney wrote the rule that requires teams to interview minority candidates for off-field jobs.
"I hope someday it's not going to be necessary," Goodell said, referring to the policy. "The clubs are doing it voluntarily because they believe it's paying dividends for them and they're benefiting. And, most importantly, it's the right thing to do."
On other issues, Goodell:
• Expressed confidence that the league and union will continue to have labor peace; the collective bargaining agreement runs through 2010. Owners have an option of voiding the CBA in 2008 to possibly restructure the way they and the union do business in the salary-cap era.
• Said the league is conducting its own investigation of urine or blood testing for human growth hormone.
• Addressed complaints from retired players about their pensions, saying "we're very concerned to see one of our former players who made this game great have medical issues. We have to sit down and be creative. We need to address that directly with them."
• Reiterated the league's opposition to gambling and "keeping a strong line between the NFL and sports betting. I don't think it is in the best interest of the NFL to have any association with sports betting."
Norma Hunt, wife of Kansas City Chiefs founder and American sports pioneer Lamar Hunt, will join former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino for the coin toss prior to Super Bowl XLI.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.