NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the game of football “has never been better.”
At his annual Wednesday news conference before the Super Bowl, Goodell noted that 50 percent of division winners and playoff teams were new team this season and cited the strength of quarterback play in the league.
“We’re so excited about the competition,” he said, adding, “You can never turn a game off, which is great for me, and great for our fans. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Goodell touched on a multitude of topics, including how paramedics and medical personnel were able to save the life of Bills safety Damar Hamlin after he went into cardiac arrest on the field during a late-season game in Cincinnati.
“The thing I’m most proud of in that case was all the work that went in it prior to that happening,” Goodell said. “We have 30 medical professionals on the sidelines, we practice and rehearse the actual drills for that exact type of circumstance, and we have the best of the best on the field.
“I told the owners later that week that the work they have invested in by bringing in these great professionals, by bringing in the best of the best, did contribute to saving a young man’s life and I’m incredibly proud of that.”
As for injuries overall in the league during the 2022 season, concussions were up 17 percent but Goodell pointed to increased evaluations for those rising figures, saying, “If you have more evaluations, you’re going to have more concussions.”
“I think there’s more work to be done with helmets and think that’s a big area for us to focus on and how do we improve those helmets,” he added. “Over the last few years, we’ve gotten our players to wear the best possible helmets and we’ve advanced our technology there.
“… And I think the other part of it is rules. Ultimately, you want to try to take the head out of the game. You’re always going to have contacts that are not intended and that’s why you need the protection, but ultimately you need the rules to make sure that you’re avoiding the techniques that can lead to those types of injuries.”
Total injuries overall were down 6 percent this season compared to 2021, Goodell said, adding that injury numbers in Weeks 17 and 18 because of the NFL’s expanded schedule were not any higher than a typical week.
Other highlights from Goodell’s news conference at the Phoenix Convention Center:
Progress in diversity, but ‘never enough’
Goodell acknowledged diversity remains one of the league’s biggest topics of importance and that while the number of diverse head coaches remains low, there has been an increase in diverse team presidents and general managers.
“We believe diversity makes us stronger,” he said. “It’s about giving us the best chance to be successful. … We’re pleased to see progress, but it’s never enough.”
The NFL accelerated program, which began last year as a means of introducing minority candidates to team ownership, is working well. “I think it’s ultimately attributed to the candidates and to our clubs really looking at their processes and changing their processes to identifying the best talent.
International market’s continued growth
Goodell said the NFL keeps making strides by playing select games in the United Kingdom and Germany and expects the interest to only skyrocket.
“Every time we play a game, whether it’s in the UK or Germany, it’s just extraordinary to see the reaction of the fans,” he said. “We want to make NFL football a global sport and I think we’ll continue on this path. We broke every record around our international games this year whether it was viewership or attendance. The excitement was just extraordinary.”
Goodell said Germany can expect to get at least one NFL regular-season game, possible more, every year moving forward in addition to the ones annually played in the UK. He added that games will return to Mexico City, where the Cardinals played this past season, once renovations are completed at Estadio Azteca in preparation for the World Cup.
NFL officiating never better
Goodell disputed concerns that officiating needs to be addressed, claiming, “When you look at officiating, I don’t think it’s ever been better in the league.”
Goodell noted that there are 42,000 plays in a season and that multiple infractions could occur on any play.
“Extrapolate that. That’s hundreds, if not million of potential fouls. Our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those. Are there mistakes in the context of that? Yes. They are not perfect and officiating never will (be perfect).”
Pro Bowl’s future
Goodell said the Pro Bowl Games held this past weekend in Las Vegas was a complete success and that players and fans loved the new concept so much that the traditional Pro Bowl game likely is gone for good.
“I don’t see us going back in any way,” he said.
Flag football has replaced the game itself, in addition to a myriad of other fun skill competitions. Goodell said Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson called him a year ago to suggest flag football was the answer. Re-evaluating the Pro Bowl “was a pivotal moment for us,” he added. “The Pro Bowl last year was something that did not represent the NFL well.”
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Commissioner Roger Goodell bullish on NFL’s direction; work still to be done on diversity