Goodell says dialogue on substance abuse, behavior issues 'constant' regardless of events

Published December 12, 2012

| Associated Press

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with the director of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers the night before Wednesday's owners meetings in the Dallas area, where a Cowboys player was charged with intoxication manslaughter in a weekend crash that killed a teammate.

Goodell also spoke Tuesday with players union boss DeMaurice Smith over issues of drinking and driving.

The commissioner said those meetings would have happened even without the death of Dallas practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown, who was killed when police say Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was speeding and flipped his vehicle early Saturday in Irving.

"It's a constant dialogue," Goodell said.

Brown died exactly a week after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before driving to the team complex and shooting himself in front of his coach and general manager. Both deaths were the day before games.

The deaths were the latest difficulties in a year that included the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and a lengthy labor negotiation with the game officials that led to three weeks of increasingly chaotic games involving replacements.

"Anything that brings a negative light, whether it's bounties or whether it's the tragic circumstances we've seen over the last two weeks, that's not good stuff for the league," Goodell said. "We have to work hard to make sure we avoid those situations and represent the NFL the way our fans expect us to do it."

Goodell said the NFL wants to increase the penalties for first and second offenses in drunken driving cases, and Brown's death has brought new scrutiny to a safe ride program. The union says the program works, but one player representative, Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis, has said players don't use it because they're concerned about confidentiality.

"If somebody has a better idea, they need to tell us," Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn said.

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HERE'S THE KICKER: Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay says the NFL's competition committee will consider the idea of eliminating kickoffs this offseason.

It remains to be seen whether those discussions will be any more productive than they were when the league moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line before the 2011 season.

"We just moved the kickoff 5 yards to reduce kickoff returns, but it was because we really couldn't come up with a better way where we knew we could move the needle on the injury number and on the concussion number," said McKay, the committee's chairman. "That doesn't mean somebody won't have a more creative way to deal with it in the evolution of it."

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano already has one. He has suggested giving the team that normally would kick off the option of punting from its 30 or going for a first down on fourth-and-15. Goodell has called Schiano's idea "interesting."

While he coached at Rutgers, Schiano witnessed one of his players, Eric LeGrand, get paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.

McKay said the increase in touchbacks under the new rule would be secondary to safety concerns.

"I have no question that when get to the offseason that idea will be fully vetted," McKay said. "When we talk about the kickoff play, one thing we try to do a good job of as a membership is letting the data and the tape, meaning the way the game is played, drive the decision as opposed to the emotion of the moment."

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QUICK HITS: The league is combining NFL Charities and the NFL Youth Football Fund into one entity called the NFL Foundation. The league named Cowboys executive Charlotte Jones Anderson its chairwoman. Anderson is the daughter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and runs the team's charitable arm. ... Goodell said the league would spend the next few months exploring playoff expansion to 14 or 16 teams. Currently, 12 teams make the playoffs — eight division champions and two wild cards in each conference. ... Owners got a demonstration of new thigh pads that will be mandatory again next season. The NFL quit mandating thigh pads in 1995 because players complained about the quality were resisting their use. The league estimates only 30 percent of today's players wear thigh pads.

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