SAN FRANCISCO — The NFL is America’s most popular pro sports league, but it isn’t without its problems, such as head trauma, cheerleader compensation and the never-ending saga of Deflategate.
Yes, more than a year later, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still is getting questions about Deflategate.
On Friday, Goodell gave his State of the League address on Friday, an annual pre-Super Bowl event in which he talks about the NFL’s accomplishments and challenges over the past year and going forward. One year ago, the media’s attention centered on whether the New England Patriots improperly inflated footballs and, if so, who was to blame.
That topic came up again Friday, given the NFL is still fighting Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady in court to uphold its four-game suspension levied after the Wells Report found it “more probable than not that he was at least generally aware” of “inappropriate activities.”
Goodell would not say when asked point blank if Brady’s original punishment of that four-game ban would be imposed should the league win its upcoming appeal, which will be heard next month by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
“We disagree with the district judge’s decision.” Goodell said, referring to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman ruling in favor of Brady. “We are appealing that, which is part of the legal process. I’m not focused on it right now. I’m not going to speculate what we’re going to do depending on the outcome. We’ll let the outcome be dictated by the appeals court. When it happens we’ll deal with it then.”
Also looming on the horizon is the Peyton Manning investigation. The Denver Broncos quarterback could potentially be playing the final game of his 18-year NFL career at Super Bowl 50 on Sunday. But also hanging in the air is an allegation — that Manning vehemently has denied — by Al Jazeera that connects Manning to human growth hormone, or HGH.
However, the public hasn’t heard much about the investigation into Manning — unlike the constant details and reports released by the league regarding Deflategate. Goodell said Friday that the NFL is working with other sports leagues and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“When we find out the facts, we will share them,” Goodell said. “We want to make sure we’re transparent.”
Another issue this year — though it’s actually been on the radar for years — is what happens to players’ brains when they’re on the gridiron.
This week, Boston University researchers revealed that former Oakland Raiders great Ken Stabler suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which the school describes as a progressive degenerative brain disease found in those with a history of brain trauma. Stabler is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2016 will be announced Saturday night.
While Goodell was not asked about the recent death of Stabler, he was asked about player safety related to concussions. His answer cited rule changes, improved equipment and technology.
“We’re not going to wait for science,” Goodell said.
Another issue that was broached was the pay for NFL cheerleaders. The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are in the midst of a lawsuit against the team demanding better wages. The suit claims that the cheerleaders, who are known as the Jills, were paid below minimum wage and were required to attend unpaid events.
NFL teams have considered cheerleaders as independent contractors — not employees.
The Jills lawsuit is only the most recent example. The Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets also have been sued.
“I think the cheerleaders perform a very valuable function for us,” Goodell said. “They’re very active in their communities. I respect what they do. They do a lot of charitable work. They’re passionate about our game, so I think they should be properly compensated.”
On looking ahead to potential global expansion, Goodell announced that the NFL will return to Mexico for the first time since 2005, with the Raiders and Houston Texans playing a regular-season game in Mexico City on November 21. It will be the first time a Monday Night Football game has been played outside of the U.S.
While there still aren’t definite plans on the table to put a team outside of the U.S. on a permanent basis, Goodell did say the league will continue to hold games in London, but didn’t commit to putting a team there permanently.
“As far as a franchise, let’s continue to grow, let’s continue to see that excitement, enthusiasm, passion and support continue to develop.,” Goodell said. “If it does, I think that’s a realistic possibility.”