NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks football safety, culture


Guest speaker NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at the annual Carl Blyth Lecture. Goodell talked about concussions and football safety.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the biggest challenge facing the league is how to keep the game of football exciting while continuing to make it more safe.

Safety for football players at the national and collegiate levels has become a widespread concern, and Goodell touched on the strides he and others — including faculty at UNC — have taken to prioritize safety as he delivered the 28th annual Carl Blyth Lecture.

“Football unifies communities and connects generations, and the game is thriving,” Goodell said Wednesday to hundreds of attendees in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center. “But for any organization to grow, to thrive and to remain relevant, it must evolve and prove and face up to its challenges.”

Kevin Guskiewicz, chairman of the UNC department of exercise and sport science and director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, has worked alongside Goodell in researching concussions and the newest technologies to monitor safety on and off the field.

Goodell said many of Guskiewicz’s findings have been applied at the league level, such as moving the kickoff back to the 35-yard line when it was found that kickoff returns produced the most severe injuries. Goodell said this has resulted in a 40 percent reduction to concussions, because the move has caused more touchbacks.

Goodell said a big issue has involved players using their heads in the game — not in terms of thinking logically but physically tackling head-first.

“The helmet is for protection; it should not be used as a weapon,” Goodell said.

Guskiewicz said in an interview that players feel so invincible due to the strength of the helmets that they are willing to lead with their heads.

Goodell said the league needs to further its leadership role in the discussion about player safety in order to set an example for high school teams and younger players.

“Medical decisions override everything else — we know that our actions set an example,” he said.
In addition to funding research and scientific efforts, Goodell said the NFL is also committed to strengthening rules and strict enforcement.

He said punishing illegal hits with fines and suspensions have changed the game for the better.

Lauren Ginocchio, a student of Guskiewicz who is considering a career as an athletic trainer in the NFL, said listening to Goodell’s take on the research was refreshing.

“It’s nice to hear someone in charge other than (Guskiewicz), who we know does all this research, but to hear someone working with the NFL care so much about player safety is really nice,” she said.

The commissioner has been a topic of discussion this week since an ESPN magazine article said Goodell told a Hall of Fame player his greatest fear was a player dying on the field, but when asked by an audience member, Goodell said he never said that.

“I’m concerned about all injuries,” Goodell said. “Every Sunday night when I get done with our traveling or whether I’m watching games at home, by the time I get to bed I’ve already seen every injury that occurs in the NFL,” he said.

Goodell said the league knows it can’t change the negative aspects of the game alone, and that it will take a collaborative effort to continue to evolve not only safety in football, but all sports.

“We need a culture of safety for every sport so that all of us that love sports can say with confidence about the future — the best is yet to come,” he said.

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