Roger Goodell believes the NFL grappling with concussions and football-related brain injuries will, in the end, make not just football a safer sport but will extend to all other sports - as well as the U.S. military.
In a fan forum with Denver Broncos' season-ticket holders before the Broncos' playoff game today against the Baltimore Ravens, Goodell spun one of the darkest periods in NFL history - a time when the league grapples with a spate of ex-players committing suicide and many of those players having suffered from brain disease - into a positive for the future.
"We are launching a series of initiatives to make the game safer, and frankly, it will make not just football safer but it will make all sports safer," Goodell said. "What I believe in so much is our leadership role. We've brought attention to the issue of concussions ... We've had an impact on the military. Traumatic brain injury is a big issue for our veterans and our military personnel. The information we have and we've learned, the research we have, we have shared with the defense department."
"Those changes are going to make not just football, not just sports, but I think our world safer," Goodell continued. "And I'm proud of that."
His comments came days after the National Institutes for Health announced that studies of the brain of NFL legend Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, showed that he suffered from a debilitating brain disease often associated with repeated hits to the head.
Goodell's wide-ranging, off-the-cuff session with fans and then reporters touched on just about every salient topic in the NFL today: the possibility of an 18-game NFL regular season (he was non-committal but said the key is to make sure it doesn't hurt player safety); the possibility of Kevlar helmets being used in the near future ("It is likely coming, or some form of it," he said, though he expressed fears of the unintended consequences of safer helmets, such as players feeling more comfortable to lead with their head); rule changes to make the game safer (he said changes in kickoff rules reduced concussions by 50 percent); and the possibility of, after next year's New York Super Bowl at an outdoor stadium, having a Super Bowl in Denver or Washington, D.C. ("The game of football is made to be played in the elements.")
He spoke about the possibility of Los Angeles getting an NFL team (no timetable), and he spoke about the fallout of the punishments in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal (the game is safer because of the league's firm stance).
Goodell didn't drop any bombshells during the fan forum or the press conference. The most interesting part, though, was the optimistic picture he painted of the future of brain injury research and how it will affect the league.
"We haven't waited for research," Goodell said. "We've been making the changes to the game. We've been making rule changes, making equipment changes. Medicine has a ways to go. We need to fund more research. We have that in our collective bargaining agreement, to fund $100 million worth of research. We funded $30 million worth to the NIH last fall. That research is under way."