Goodell: Suspensions the solution for reducing dangerous hits

NEW ORLEANS - Commissioner Roger Goodell held his “State of the NFL” address Friday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and while nothing earth-shaking came from the nearly hour-long session, there were a few interesting tidbits.

Starting with the topic most relevant to the Ravens, Goodell responded to players’ displeasure with how the league is being policed and penalties for dangerous hits.

Baltimore safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard both have been outspoken about the NFL fining defensive players. And both have incurred significant fines this season, as well.

The league tried to suspend Reed for repeated high hits to opposing players, but the one-game ban was lifted on appeal and replaced with a $50,000 fine. Goodell believes suspending players for such infractions is the answer.

“This is something that we have seen, an escalation in the discipline, because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game,” Goodell said. “I think it was about four years ago at this very press conference, I said, ‘We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries.’ The focus was on defenseless players, and I stand by our record because I think we have made those changes and made the game safer.

“I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders. It’s not just the player, the defenseless player, that’s being protected - it’s the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate. Taking these hits out of the game can be positive.

“The most effective way of doing that, and I’m not for it because we want to see all of our players on the field, is when they are repeat offenders and they are involved with these dangerous techniques, that we’re going to have to take them off the field.

“Suspension gets through to them. It gets through on the basis that they don’t want to let their teammates down, and they want to be on the field. We want to see them on the field. We’re going to continue to emphasize the importance of following those rules. When there are violations, we will escalate the discipline.”

Another topic relevant to the Ravens is the future of the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for upper-level leadership positions.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, the former Indianapolis Colts head coach, didn’t receive a single interview despite eight head coaching openings this offseason. In fact, no African American candidates were hired to fill any of the posts.

Goodell said he envisions the Rooney Rule evolving to address such concerns.

“First, the Rooney Rule has been very effective over the last decade, but we have to look to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is,” he said. “What’s going to take us to another level? We’re committed to finding that answer. That’s going to have to come from conversations with a lot of people in this league to find out exactly what can be most effective in allowing our talent to excel.

“We want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions, and give everybody the opportunity to do that. We want to focus on how do we get to a Rooney Rule, or an extension of the Rooney Rule, or a new generation of the Rooney Rule, that will allow us to do that. There was full compliance with the Rooney Rule. There were, in fact, I believe, a record number of interviews.

“But we didn’t have the outcomes that we wanted, and the outcomes are to make sure that we have full diversity throughout our coaching ranks, throughout our executive ranks, and throughout the league office. It’s very important to the success of the league to do that, and we’re committed to finding those solutions.”

Goodell discussed one more Ravens-related topic: the future of human growth hormone testing in the NFL.

Linebacker Ray Lewis was accused of purchasing a product containing the banned substance IGF-1 to help him return from his torn triceps. The performance-enhancing effects of IGF-1 are reportedly similar to HGH.

The league and players’ union agreed to HGH testing in the last collective bargaining agreement, but it has yet to be implemented.

“I believe that HGH testing is going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season,” Goodell said. “It’s the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game. It’s also the right thing to do to send the right message to everybody else in sports. You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

“The science is there. There is no question about that. Baseball, Olympics, everyone believes that the science is there and are utilizing the tests, so we need to get to that agreement.”