- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Roger Goodell is the fresh face among sports commissioners. At 47, the NFL’s new boss is considerably younger than Major League Baseball’s Bud Selig, the NBA’s David Stern and the NHL’s Gary Bettman.

However, Goodell, who succeeded Paul Tagliabue on Sept. 1, is no newcomer to the NFL. The son of late U.S. Senator Charles Goodell (New York Republican) began his career in the league office as a public relations intern in 1982. After a year with the New York Jets, Goodell returned to Park Avenue in 1984 and has been there ever since, rising to chief operating officer in 2001 before being chosen by the owners in August over four outsiders.

Goodell inherited the colossus of American sports and a worldwide leader in entertainment content. The 32-team NFL is also at labor peace with its players for at least this season and next and is enjoying record revenues from its lucrative and varied television deals and from its plethora of new stadiums.

And yet, the sandy-haired former Division III player, who looks like he would’ve fit in with the Beach Boys, is not the type to rest easy.

During a meeting Friday in his 17th floor office with David Elfin of The Washington Times and Alex Marvez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, president and vice president, respectively, of the Pro Football Writers of America, Goodell asked questions, challenged assumptions and took notes, almost as if he were a journalist.

Q: Is player behavior something you’re concerned about? Not just touchdown celebrations, but also off-the-field stuff? And what can you do about it?

A: Anything we can do to keep the focus on the football field is what we should be doing. When there is off-field behavior that distracts people from either perceiving the NFL, its players, its coaches or its teams in a negative fashion, that’s a distraction from promoting the NFL in a positive way. When you’re looking at our 2,000 guys and the coaches we have, I’m very proud of what they accomplish both on and off the field. Obviously when you have that number of young people, you’re talking about a lot of circumstances where they’re put in difficult positions. … But guys have to be smart enough to know that. We’re held to a higher standard in the NFL. You have to meet that standard.

Q: You’ve said there is no reliable or accurate test for Human Growth Hormone. Is that one of your biggest goals right now, to help fund the development of a reliable test?

A: We are helping to fund the development of a test for HGH. I have already met with the two chairmen of the [House] Government Reform Committee — Tom Davis and Henry Waxman — to ask for federal funding. I’ve met with our scientists. … This issue goes well beyond sports. HGH was not developed for athletic performance. It was developed to help [children] grow at a more normal pace. Now it’s becoming the opposite, which is to help people become younger. We recognize our role in this. This is about player safety and making sure that we preserve the integrity of the sport. … Testing is not going to eliminate this issue. You have to educate. You have to make sure that there’s discipline. It’s a variety of approaches.

Q: In terms of broadening the NFL’s exposure, it would appear, at least in this country, you’ve reached a saturation point. Is international really the next step?

A: There are thousands of people who are not watching football as much as I’d like them to be. I don’t agree that we’ve reached saturation by any stretch of the imagination. The Hispanic audience in this country is extraordinary. I want to find out how we can reach them. How do we find new ways of making our game more appealing to different demographics? We have a lot more people who we can attract to this game — here and internationally.

Q: Has NFL Europe been what you thought it would be? Can you capture the world the way basketball has?

A: I think we can. We have the greatest game in the world and the greatest athletes in the world. I believe that firmly. We have to do a better job of making sure we expand our game. … NFL Europe has multiple purposes. We are going through an evaluation right now to see if we are meeting those objectives. If it’s meeting those objectives, great. If it’s not, we’ll look at a different strategy.

Q: What went wrong with NFL Europe? It seemed like it was doing such a great job of producing quarterbacks with Kurt Warner, Jay Feely and Brad Johnson. Now it’s just used by teams basically to get extra bodies for training camp. They don’t even send their quarterbacks there for development.

A: I think each of those cases is different, so you have to be cautious. Each player needs something different in his development. Some may need more time with their coaches. Some coaches would rather have them with the rest of the team so they can work with them. Some guys just need reps. They just need to find a way to get into a game situation. It’s just different. We’re still finding players and we’re still developing players. Sometimes you find out who can’t play, which is also beneficial, by the way. There are a lot of positives from a development standpoint. I’m not sure the league has “found” players, though. It may have developed them, but there is a difference.

Q: The Sunday night (Oct. 8) ratings in Miami were the lowest of all the 55 metered markets. How much can the NFL legitimately grow its Hispanic fan base?

A: One of the things we see when we play these games in international markets is how the fan base is so much more educated about the game (than it used to be). They respond at the right time. I remember the first time we went to Japan we announced that we were going into overtime because the game was tied and they clapped like it was an encore. They were clapping when the flags went up in the air from the officials. They just didn’t understand the game enough. Now you can see how the fans respond. In Mexico, they are just great fans. I believe there is an opportunity to convert them into greater fans and that there is a large [Hispanic] population and demographic here that we haven’t reached.

Q: Wayne Huizenga has made a lot of improvements to his stadium without even using the G-3 fund (an NFL fund to help new stadiums get built). Will you guys ever reconsider this “Super Site” idea that he proposed and maybe putting Miami into a regular rotation for Super Bowls?

A: He’s building a tremendous facility. There are a lot of things we are going to be able to use around the Super Bowl this year and for the next Super Bowl. He doesn’t have G-3, but he has the club seat waiver. As long as he has that to help build a stadium or renovate a stadium, he can — as long as he uses the premiums from both the home and the visitors share — use it to pay down that debt. We will give that to him for a certain number of years. So we are participating in the financing of this stadium. But Wayne has made an extraordinary commitment to building a terrific facility and making it a great experience not only for Dolphins’ home games, but also for every other event that happens there, including Super Bowls.

Q: Do you think he could eventually get locked into a regular rotation of Super Bowls?

A: He’s got two of the next four now. As that stadium is completed and they see the experience it’s created around there, that will only benefit them because Miami is a great city. It’s a great venue for Super Bowls. Now he’s going to have a terrific facility. That’s a pretty strong combination.

Q: Has the feedback [on tour of NFL cities] been positive so far? Are people happy with where the game is right now?

A: I’m a positive, optimistic guy, but I focus on the negatives. I don’t always want to hear that everything is great. I ask what it is we should be thinking about. What’s the next storm cloud? I worry about things like performance-enhancing drugs. I worry about what is going to happen to our [television] ratings. Those things are big issues.

Q: You haven’t heard any problems you hadn’t already been thinking about?

A: A lot of clubs are very concerned about the labor agreement. There’s a lot of focus on that. Is the labor agreement still working? Does it need to be changed in a way that better reflects some of the realities that we are dealing with? As an example, we’re talking about billion-dollar facilities now. It’s an extraordinary capital investment to build these facilities. Does that make sense? Does that pay back? How do we do that?

Q: What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had since you got the job?

A: How people treat you differently, probably. As I said, I’ve been in this business for 25 years and I don’t feel any different than I did when I was an intern. They treat you different.

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