LAS VEGAS — Ahead of Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a news conference for his annual state of the league address with reporters inside the Las Vegas Raiders locker room at Allegiant Stadium on Monday.
With Las Vegas hosting the Super Bowl for the first time, it only made sense that the NFL’s evolving relationship with gambling was the prevailing theme. As the prevalence of legalized sports betting has increased throughout the U.S., doubts about the integrity of the game have intensified.
“While people can speculate and people can have perceptions, we have to hold that standard as high as we possibly can,” Goodell said. “I haven’t heard an awful lot of it, but you do hear it. There are people that say those things, whether they’re irresponsible or not. I think we’ve proven it in the way we’ve enforced those rules.”
Goodell estimated that the NFL disciplined about 13 players and fired 25 league and team personnel staffers for gambling violations. During Super Bowl week, all league and team personnel will be barred from participating in any form of gambling or visiting casinos. Before the week started, the NFL sent a reminder of the league’s gambling rules to all parties expected to travel to Las Vegas. Given the NFL has tri-exclusive gambling partnerships with Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel, speculation about the potential for the sports betting industry to influence games isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
“We talked about the integrity of the game,” Goodell said. “We want to make sure that when people are watching NFL games, they know the action on the field is genuine and without any outside influence.”
Goodell also fielded inquiries about a number of the biggest topics surrounding the league. In addition to gambling, here are four others that stood out:
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Racial progress among coaching ranks has been mixed
There were four head coaches of color hired this offseason. Overall, there are now nine head coaches of color, which is an NFL record. Goodell was pleased with that progress, believing that the slowed hiring process played a factor and thinks that league programming such as the NFL coach accelerator program has made a difference. At the same time, he recognized that there’s still room for improvement.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Goodell said. “We are not satisfied with where we are.”
For instance, there are currently zero offensive coordinators of color. Given the majority of head coaching hires come from the offensive side of the ball, that could prevent the number of head coaches of color from continuing to rise if it isn’t corrected. The NFL has instituted programming such as requiring every team to have a full-time diverse offensive assistant, but it hasn’t rendered results.
“I don’t think it means it’s not working,” Goodell countered. “These offensive assistants are young, and they need the ability to have the exposure and the experience to grow to be able to become offensive coordinators and then head coaches. I think it’s too early to say it’s not working. I don’t accept that.”
Goodell was also asked whether contract language such as what the New England Patriots used to promote Jerod Mayo this offseason without conducting outside interviews could potentially be used to subvert the Rooney Rule. That was another notion that he quickly rejected.
“(Patriots owner) Robert Kraft made that commitment a year ago in the contract with Jerod Mayo,” he said. “It said that if (former Patriots head coach) Bill Belichick is not the head coach, you’ll be the head coach. I think that’s smart management. Ultimately, we all want to keep our people and develop our people. He knew that Jerod Mayo was head coach material. I think that’s a very positive trend. I don’t believe it’s skirting the Rooney Rule. I actually believe it’s benefiting our players and our coaches to have that kind of stability in our clubs.
“I don’t think that’s proven to be a subversion of (the Rooney Rule). I don’t see that. If that becomes reality, we’ll have to address that. But, again, I think that’s a really smart approach to be able to develop our own personnel and put them in a position to become head coaches.”
Maybe Goodell is right, but the more important aspect here is that the NFL doesn’t allow progress from a racial standpoint to cause them to get complacent. History has shown us that, if they do, things can regress rapidly.
The NFL should focus on reducing concussions, not reporters highlighting the issue
For the fourth straight season, the number of concussions in the NFL suffered across preseason and regular season games and practices increased in 2023. On Monday, ProFootballTalk reported that testimony in litigation between the NFL and insurance companies over who’s responsible for concussion settlement costs revealed a 2012 email from Goodell stating that he wanted to start a “ground war” against media companies publishing what he deemed inaccurate information about NFL concussions.
“We want reporting that’s going to be accurate and is based on fact,” Goodell said Monday when asked about the email. “We want them to understand where we are, how we’re making the game safer, the things that we’re doing … Taking techniques out of the game, modifying rules, making sure that we’re adding extra protections in so that we can identify when players are injured. People didn’t think we could change our culture and our players are now raising their hands when they think they have a concussion potentially or when they see somebody else. Those are all positives that have been made to make things safer for our players.”
With that being said, the NFL has failed to discover a way to consistently lower the number of concussions. Until the league finds a solution, it has to continue to be talked about.
There wasn’t any commitment to settling the grass vs. turf debate
The grass vs. turf debate continues. NFL players largely prefer grass and believe turf is more likely to cause injury. Despite that, the league and its owners haven’t been willing to commit to installing grass fields in all 32 stadiums. It’s something that the NFL and NFLPA are in constant discussion about, but there doesn’t seem to be a resolution on the horizon.
“This has been a major focus with our union,” Goodell said. “We’ve worked with experts to try to study this question. It’s not always just grass vs. synthetic. We think hybrid is something to really explore. That’s actually what they use in international soccer. … Additionally, we’ve got a little different circumstance. If you’re playing in domes for 4 1/2 months, it’s pretty hard to grow grass.
“But we want to try to get the best possible playing surface. It varies from market to market and climate to climate. One of the things that we think is really important is consistent. And when I say consistency, it’s not just the game day playing surface, but it’s the consistency of what players are practicing on. That consistency is really important according to our engineers and our experts. We’re looking at that with the players association and, hopefully, we can find a better solution.”
Last year’s Super Bowl suffered from poor field conditions, which has increased the focus on the field that’ll be used at Allegiant Stadium for Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday. There’s already been field drama this week with the 49ers complaining about the practice field surface at UNLV. The NFL can’t afford for similar issues to arise on gameday again.
Goodell acknowledged a need for improved officiating
Consistency is also the top priority when it comes to officiating. NFL referees have been under increased scrutiny from fans, players, coaches, executives and media alike this season.
“The level of scrutiny is at the highest I’ve ever seen it,” Goodell said. “And that’s part of our popularity. I understand that. It’s part of the technology. (TV broadcasts) do such a great job that you see more than you could ever see in officiating. The game is faster. I think our officials do a great job. They are superior. But, at the end of the day, no one’s perfect.”
Goodell made sure to defend the referees — he always will — but he acknowledged that they could be more consistent. As always, whether that happens in the Super Bowl will be a massive area of focus.
“We have to continue to try to get better,” Goodell said. “We have to work to use technology where we can try to improve their performance and make sure they get the right answer. I think they’re doing an incredible job, but we’re going to keep working to get better.”
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)