He briefly touched on the topic of upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with players ahead of the 2020 expiration of the current agreement. He said he is “not a fan” of the current, four-game preseason schedule and reiterated previous statements that the league is exploring an expanded regular season and playoff pool. (The NFL Players Association has long pushed back on the notion of adding more games, citing injury risk and other factors.)
Not a word was spoken about the ongoing saga of Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, out of the game for nearly three years amid a swirl of controversy, has re-entered the headlines this week after a workout for him with NFL teams was arranged and then widely criticized.
The subject of Kaepernick was seemingly taken off the table at the start of the session by moderator James Brown, host of The NFL Today on CBS. “I know there’s some pretty salient news, some important news that’s breaking in the world of the NFL,” Brown said, without naming Kaepernick. “Roger and I are going to stick to the topic here: ‘100 Seasons and Counting,'” the official name of the session. “It would take us all day to deal with what the breaking news is,” Brown said. “We’ll deal with that at the appropriate time and we only have 25 minutes.”
It turned out there was one subject Goodell was glad to expound on, and it was (irony alert) the state of sports media. In teeing up the question, Brown read from an index card. “I’m very personally interested in this next topic, the evolution of sportswriters and journalism,” Brown said. “I really want to hear your answer to this one.” Goodell interjected with a chuckle, “I don’t know what’s coming.” Brown, nodding to the highly scripted nature of the session, advised, “You wrote it!”
The audience let out a giggle, and then Goodell proceeded to lodge a general complaint, after first acknowledging that he is married to former Fox News anchor Jane Skinner. “There’s so much out there, so many quote-unquote ‘journalists.’ I think it’s changed dramatically,” he said. “There’s no longer a focus on doing credible pieces that stand the test of time, that are sourced properly and backed up. It’s who gets there first. Who gets it out first, and it doesn’t matter if it’s right. Just get it out.”
Goodell didn’t mention any journalists or outlets by name. “That’s probably unpopular with a lot of people here, but I believe that,” he added. The new approaches are “difficult to manage at times, because you spend a lot of time trying to clean up things that, if they had just called, if we had just had the opportunity to give a different perspective, maybe they’d consider that. But there’s so much out there that they’ve got to go fast. Speed. You no longer have a deadline. It’s now. Somebody could be out there tweeting this right now. It’s the way of the world. You can’t fight it. You just have to learn how to manage it.”
The stagecraft of the session wasn’t the only moment during the Paley conference when boundaries were drawn. The day’s agenda began with a panel featuring former U.S. Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger, but Paley declared the session to be “off the record,” repeating the same classification for a later session about media M&A. That’s not unheard-of at Wall Street investment conferences or certain other high-level gatherings, but less common at an institution devoted to media.
Brown closed the session with Goodell by joking that he hoped he had passed muster as a moderator. “You’re now appointed Deputy Commissioner,” Goodell smiled. He took no questions from the audience.
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