MIAMI— Wednesday at Super Bowl LIV featured one of the Super Bowl’s oldest traditions, the annual commissioner’s press conference.
Unfortunately what used to be known as the annual “State of the League” address from Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell, and was often one of the most meaningful and important events of Super Bowl week has been tinkered with and minimized in recent seasons to what might be more accurately described now as the “State of Denial” address.
Over six decades the presser was held mid-day on Friday, after all the other pre-game hype had wrapped up to shine a light on anything and everything relevant to the success and enjoyment of the game, and to assure the entire media could be available to attend.
But three years ago in Houston the league quietly moved the presser to Wednesday early afternoon at a location away from the central media gathering place and a time when most of the media was still knee deep in covering the teams and other events.
It’s remained that way since in a real disservice to both the media and fans.
Goodell took a total of 20 questions, the majority from media pursuing local concerns about future games and franchises in London, Mexico City and Toronto, and stadium concerns in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Buffalo that were really a waste of time for this particular event.
Stunningly not one of the questions was about officiating although a number of us did have hands up trying to get the microphone for additional questions when the event was surprisingly cut short.
In fairness to Goodell, it’s certainly not his fault none of the 20 questions he did get were about one of the most important topics facing the game today.
The first question was about player safety and the commissioner replied, “Safety has been at the forefront and our number one priority for our players. Over the last 10 to 15 years in particular we’ve made over 50 rules changes to make our game safer.
“We’ve made changes in equipment, particularly the helmet. We have six new models coming out this year, all of which will raise innovation and frankly the quality of the helmets our players wear.
“In addition, obviously we’re working on research, which techniques should be taken out of the game. So, that’s how we change our rules.
“So, with all of those changes, we have made our game safer.
“You mentioned that concussions were up but they’re up only slightly and statistically insignificant after a record decline last year of close to 30 percent.”
I have no doubt Goodell has real concern for players’ safety, but I’m not sure calling even one additional concussion insignificant was the smartest way to go?
I’m also positive Goodell is deeply concerned about domestic violence, about which he said in part, “I believe there is a need for us to be incredibly responsive, I believe we’ve made changes that I would call productive in trying to make sure that some of these things don’t occur.
“But what we have to do is continually stay ahead of our policies and try and do everything possible to prevent these terrible situations from occurring.”
The problem is in reality the league continues to chase its tail on this one.
The lack of minority coaches and front office folks appears to be a burgeoning issue — and Goodell didn’t try to hide from it.
“Yeah, clearly we are not where we want to be on this subject. You know we have a lot of work to do on our policies overall, it’s clear they need change and we need something better. There’s no reason to expect things will be better next year without this type of change.
“We’re trying to figure out what we can do next and we have to make those changes.”
You won’t find an answer there either.
Realistically the biggest issue facing the NFL today is an expiring collective bargaining agreement after the 2020 season.
“As I’ve said before that’s not something we’re going to negotiate in a press conference.
“We have been having incredibly positive dialogue in conversations and we’ve made a lot of progress the last seven or eight months since we began those discussions more importantly.
“The process will move forward and when all of our comfortable we can reach an agreement, we will. I don’t know when that will be, but I think it’s more important to get it right.”
In other words, whatever the commissioner knows, he’s not going to share it with us.
Listen, Goodell has an incredibly difficult job. Really, I mean that.
But at $30 million-to-$40 million a year in comp, what would you expect?
It was hard coming away from today’s presser without wondering, if he’s not going to tell us anything that actually matters, why hold the press conference at all?