Gil LeBreton

Risks? Even the sofa is risky, NFL chief Goodell says

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put a shiny new coat of whitewash on his State of the NFL address Friday to the delight of NFL owners everywhere.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put a shiny new coat of whitewash on his State of the NFL address Friday to the delight of NFL owners everywhere. AP

Twelve months ago, with images of under-inflated footballs and Ray Rice elevator knockouts ripe in everyone’s mind, Roger Goodell stood before the same audience and wet his custom-tailored pants.

He was evasive and defensive, and he turned arrogantly condescending when a respected female reporter suggested that his role as both NFL judge and arbiter constituted a conflict of interest.

Rather than censure the commissioner for embarrassing the league, however, the owners that appointed him and pay him rushed to Goodell’s defense.

Thus, here he was Friday, back for yet another State of the NFL address.

And to hear Goodell tell it, the league is grand. Move along, please. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, giving a player the concussion test.

Three NFL franchises could well have abandoned their cities 18 months from now, and yet Goodell trumpeted the Rams’ move to Los Angeles as “transformational.”

Seven high school football players died from injuries sustained last year in games or practices, and yet Goodell said Friday, “There’s risks in life. There’s risks to sitting on the couch.”

A lot of the questions, frankly, were lobbed to Goodell so invitingly that they had to have been scripted and planted.

The Super Bowl welcome by the citizens of San Francisco? Goodell loves it.

A regular-season game in Mexico City? Senor Goodell says si-si to it.

When a 12-year-old girl, winner of a competition that allowed her to join the press conference crowd, asked Goodell if she, too, might one day play NFL football, daddy commissioner assured her that indeed she could.

On Johnny Manziel, whose developing story hovers over the league like fresh garbage, Goodell would only say counseling is available.

The ongoing concern about concussions?

“The concussion issue,” Goodell answered, “is something we’ve been focused on for several decades.”

Yes. He actually said that with a straight face.

Goodell, in other words, was well-rehearsed and seldom strayed from the script. Substantive issues were sidestepped and lateraled to “our doctors” or “scientists” or the Rooney Rule.

It’s because Goodell knows his role. He is commissioner because he makes money for the men — the NFL owners — who elected him.

Whatever franchise(s) relocate to Los Angeles will have to pay the league $550 million. Will the owners have to share that with the players? When asked that same question at a press conference Thursday, the head of the players union didn’t know.

I’ll bet Goodell, who earns $44 million a year, could tell him.

Two NFL teams now play in states where the sale of marijuana has been legalized. Goodell was asked Friday if the league might reconsider, therefore, its ban on recreational drugs.

Of course, it won’t, Goodell more or less said. What’s in it for the owners? The players can ask for it in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Two semi-definitive Goodell opinions did slip through the cracks. One was about the joke that the Pro Bowl has become, and the other dealt with player safety.

“It is not the kind of game that I think we want to continue to have in its current format based on what we saw last week,” he said about the Pro Bowl.

Goodell also was direct when he said, “I believe that the league should pursue a policy where if there are two personal fouls in a game, there’s an automatic ejection of the player.”

But no one in the audience was able to squeeze in a question about the erratic officiating of this past season.

And when someone suggested that the recent announced retirements of Calvin Johnson and other relatively young players were a sign of their concerns about safety, Goodell said, “I disagree with the premise of your question.”

The press conference ended abruptly shortly after.

Goodell posed for a few photos with the Lombardi Trophy and departed without a proverbial scratch.

The owners, I’m sure, will be well pleased.