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Roger Goodell: Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalties "Needed More Teeth"

The NFL competition committee apparently really, REALLY does not want players to hurt each other's feelings.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Commissioner Roger Goodell and competition committee chairman Rick McKay took some time with the media to explain their controversial new rule additions today. In particular, they were barraged with questions about players now being subjected to automatic ejection for accumulating two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game. Here is the full transcript of what they had to say on the matter, as well as their thoughts on the latest scientific research into CTE, adding more practice days to the offseason schedule, and potentially stripping Goodell of his immense disciplinary power.

Rich McKay: A very significant change for us from a safety perspective is the complete elimination of the chop block. It has been a part of our game for a long time. There has been plenty of teams and schemes that have relied upon that technique. It is not one that has overwhelmed us in injury data, but it is not one that we have felt good about over the years as we’ve continued to limit that play where it was legal, and this year we were able to eliminate it totally which I think is a good thing. I think it’s a good thing from a defensive player perspective. Often times many of our safety rules are directed towards offensive players or at least they appear to be even though the defenseless receiver in our case many times we think is actually for the benefit of the defensive back. But in this one, as this is a pure defensive player safety rule, we think it’s time to pass and we’re happy it did.

We passed this morning an amended playing rule proposal for automatic ejection after two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. We amended it to make it for one year only. We heard some of the coaches and some of their concerns yesterday about the rule and how the rule would be used, so we wanted to amend it and make it for one year and we passed that today. We passed moving the touchback to the 25, which we do think has a safety element to it. We passed that also for one year because we do want to see if it changes the numbers and how it impacts the game because there is that thought that there will be some more short kicks. We’ll see. The other ones that passed, the horse collar. We expanded the horse collar protection. The horse collar has been a concern of ours because of the buckling action when a player gets pulled backwards, we feel it’s really a play of tremendous risk to the player and so we wanted to expand that protection and we were able to do that.

Rich, you mentioned objections to the ejections, do you think, how strong were those considered by the owners and do you think that the fact that proposal was originated by the commissioner had an impact?

McKay: I think these are spirited discussions, typically, in the room, and educational and productive. And I think this one on sportsmanship in general was very productive, both yesterday and then yesterday afternoon, then again today. We’ve emphasized sportsmanship in our competition committee report since I’ve been on the competition committee at least five times, if not six. We have made it a point of emphasis every time we felt like it’s beginning to cross the line. We have not been able to affect sportsmanship in the way we think we need to, so this year we have another section on sportsmanship. We have specific points we are emphasizing on sportsmanship. But we felt like we needed a rule to make sure that the players are held accountable to what we expect them to do and how we expect them to conduct themselves.

Goodell: Mark, to one point, I think we spoke about this yesterday with all the clubs, brought it back this morning.  I think Jeff Fisher said it the best, he started off the meeting this morning saying, listen, as coaches we’re responsible for making sure we coach our players, control our players, and sportsmanship is a key component of that. Second, coach made it very clear that while we’ve had points of emphasis in the past in the competition committee, they need teeth. This was a rule that brought teeth to that. It brought an opportunity for the rules to reflect the emphasis that I think everybody in the membership feels, and particularly the competition committee, sportsmanship is important to us. It’s important to our players, it’s important to our teams, and it’s important to our fans.

For Roger, this is Bob Condotta from the Seattle Times. Richard Sherman was pretty vehement in his opposition to the rule on the ejections. I just-what would be the league’s message to players such as him that think this is a bad rule?

Goodell: This is all in their control. Sportsmanship is important to the membership. We all have standards. They have two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties before they’re ejected. The message from the membership and the clubs and from our coaches has said we’re going to be held to those high standards.

Roger, Tom Pelissero, USA Today. When you spoke on this for the first time at the Super Bowl about the two strikes and you’re out policy, I think a lot of us took it to mean that you were referring to personal fouls and illegal hits. I’m curious to hear how the final proposal that passed meshes with what your vision and your hope was, and also how you feel about the possibility of one guy getting tossed out of the game for two vulgar insults and a guy who has had two helmet-to-helmet hits gets to keep playing.

Goodell: Well Tom, a couple of points: My recollection may not be that good, but I’m pretty sure the question at the Super Bowl was what you are going to do about sportsmanship. And my suggestion would be that we consider this, and that I had spoken to the chairman of the competition committee, coaches, and others, and felt that this was something that should be considered by the committee. They did. They did consider also expanding it into personal fouls and chose not to do that. That was not the intent, but it was, I think we were clear about this at the Super Bowl, that’s for the competition committee to consider. Weigh all of those issues, determine what should be considered and in what context, and then make a recommendation to the membership. They did and I think they came to a good place.

And in terms of just the sportsmanship aspect versus the actual dangerous hits on the field. I guess that’s the second part of the question is if a player gets to keep playing after two illegal hits, but after two abusive language things he gets to keep playing. How do you feel about that possibility?

Goodell: I think when you’re implementing a new rule like this, you go in increments. It’s progress in the sense of trying to deal with a particular issue, unsportsmanlike conduct. At some point in time will this rule evolve into something that will incorporate other issues? I’m sure the competition committee will consider that. It’s probably no different that instant replay, Tom. When we started with instant replay it was very limited, and look where it’s gone today. So I think that’s part of how we evolve. That’s how we get better is we start with a particular objective and see what the impact is, and then we go from there.

There have been some conflicting remarks about CTE from the league. Jeff Miller at the roundtable [in Washington, DC] saying that he agrees that there is some linkage between football and CTE, and Jerry Jones last night saying 'it’s too soon’, and I think he used the word ‘absurd’ to draw that definitive conclusion. Can you just say where the league stands on this issue, and whether you feel that there is some linkage between football and CTE?

Goodell: The most important thing for us is to support the medical and scientists to determine what those connections are. We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years. We’ve actually funded those studies, so we’re not only aware of those, we recognize them and we support those studies. A lot of the research is still in its infancy, but we’re trying to find ways to accelerate that, and that’s part of what we’re doing in investing in additional research this week.

But we’re also not waiting for the research. We’re going out and making the changes to our game. We’re making changes to our rules, which you’ve heard about today. We made changes in 2011 that affected the way we train our athletes. Several coaches and I had conversations today about how it’s changing the way they’re teaching the techniques that are used on the field and in training. All very positive changes. You’ve also seen a lot of the changes we’ve made in equipment, and there are more to come.

There are changes to the fields, changes with helmets — some of you may have been able to see the tech lab today with the VICIS helmet out there. So there’s exciting technological changes that are going to make our game safer, and we’re advancing that, we’re driving that. And so our view is to try to continue to do that. We’ll support science and medicine and allow them to make those decisions, and try to see what we can do to support that and advance that.

There was a report last week that the NFL was negotiating with the NFLPA to strip you of your disciplinary authority. Is there any truth to that and how do you feel about that? Do you want to retain that authority?

Goodell: Listen, I think I said at the Super Bowl that we’re not going to negotiate positions publicly. On the other hand, I’ve also been very open over the last several years that we have had discussions about the discipline process for decades. We began after we signed our collective bargaining agreement in 2011 to discuss how we could modify the existing plan and we’re always open to that. I’ve said that before. If we could find a better discipline system let’s do it. We are not close to an agreement by any stretch of the imagination on any changes to that as it relates to a third party or other individuals making those decisions, but we are open to them. We will continue to have that dialogue directly with the union and if we can come up with a better system, we’ll announce it at that point.

A couple of coaches this week have been pretty outspoken about wanting one, more practice time and two, more contact with players. Bill O’Brien said he’d like to get players in the building before the middle of April. Bruce Arians wanted more contact practices just for teaching players. I know it’s a CBA issue, but have you seen anything in the game that will make you say, "Alright, these guys are right with wanting more contact with players" and what are your personal thoughts on those?

Goodell: You make a very good point. We had a very good discussion this week with the coaches, general managers and coaches in the room at our special Tuesday session. This was a pretty lengthy dialogue and it comes in two levels. First, you made a point about the coaches would like to have more opportunity in the offseason to be able to coach. Let me put that in one bucket. That is not unusual, we’ve heard that before. We’ve heard it when we signed our collective bargaining agreement in 2011 and I respect it.

Coaches like to coach and so they want to be on the field and they want to be out working to try to improve their team. We made an agreement with our players. We’re going to respect it and we’re going to have all 32 teams operating on that same level playing field. The second issue which came up and I thought was incredibly thoughtful which is – and it came out of the context with the Rams this year with their relocation to Los Angeles - they had a special session which was approved by the Players Association where they could bring their players in and it was non-football. It was about talking about the relocation of the team, how it impacts each of those players, where they’ll be training, the timing and it was very productive, but it was also a chance for – and Jeff made this point – that they were able to get players together collectively and it was a positive thing and they had the structure and there was a great deal of excitement.

It was positive for the players to have that structure back again. The context is could we do that? Could we expand our player engagement programs to give them more opportunities to focus on life skills on ways in which they could look beyond the game of football and improve themselves, improve their lives and communities. So that is something that we will continue to have dialogue with the union. It is a CBA issue, but we think there’s some real possibility there and I think the coaches were real articulate on that this week.

What are your thoughts on the Commissioner’s comments, BRB? Will ejections for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties help the game mature, or will it just end up hurting teams that are on the wrong end of a flag-happy officiating crew?