NFL commissioner Roger Goodell touched on a wide range of topics at a Politico lunch Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, but mainly dodged questions about the NFL referee lockout and New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
He did, though, voice support for Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has been in the news lately for backing gay marriage.
Politico chief political writer Mike Allen did get Goodell to speak briefly about some of the more contentious topics plaguing the league over its first few weeks: the overturning of suspensions of four Saint's players associated with the team's controversial bounty program and the league's use of replacement referees amid a labor dispute with the regular officiating crews. But Goodell spent much of the time speaking about the league's popularity overseas, tailgating, and feel-good stories such as Redskins' rookie Robert Griffin III and New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow. They even discussed Goodell's "man cave," featuring three TVs which are often tuned in to NFL games.
Here's what you missed:
Goddell backs players' right to speak out on social issues: A member of the crowd asked Goodell if he had been following the controversy surrounding Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr: Burns sent a strongly-worded letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti condemning Ayanbadejo after the linebacker publicly supported gay marriage.
Goodell didn't seem to be aware of the issue, but said he supports players' First Amendment rights.
"I think in this day and age, people are going to speak up about what they think is important. They speak as individuals. I think that's an important part of our democracy," he said. "I think you'll see people sharing their views if they have strong views."
Replacement refs did an "outstanding job," despite the fact that sports blog Deadspin found at least 21 mistakes from week one:
"Officiating isn't a perfect science—it's very difficult to officiate, these guys did an outstanding job, we were very pleased with the performance, and they're going to get better," he said.
As for the locked out referees, he said he doesn't "negotiate in public, because that's not the way you do things," but agreed that pensions were one of the main hang-ups. Owners want referees to move to a 401(k) plan from what's known as a "defined benefit program."
He also said the league is considering getting "full time officials who come into the office and work 365 days a year" and expanding the referee pool so the league could replace crews or officials who are underperforming. "There are a lot of changes we'd like to make that we don't have the ability to do with our current agreement that we want to get taken care of," he said. "And obviously there's some economic issues as well."
On changing the game to reduce concussions: Rules changes don't have to ruin the game, he said. In the early 1900s, "they made changes to the game that made it safer. One of those changes led to the invention of the forward pass, which proved you could make the game safer and more exciting. That's what we're focused on doing."
On the possibility of football in Los Angeles: "It all starts with a new stadium."
On the overturned Saints' players suspensions: He said he would meet with the suspended players "once he gets all the facts" and said that in the past, the players "came in for hearings, but didn't participate."
On RGIII: "He can do a lot of things, he's an exciting player, but he'd be the first to tell you it's only one game. I think he's an exciting player but he's also a fantastic young man. This community will be excited to have him leading the Redskins. He's the kind of guy you want to see succeed."
On whether Tebowmania has died down: "Not in New York it hasn't. I think there's a tremendous amount of interest. He can contribute in so many different ways to the team. I think he's a winner. He proved that in college. He picked the Broncos up on his back last year."
On how to make tailgating better: "To me it, it starts with making it safer. When you go to a stadium, you want to feel safe. When you're rooting for the other team, you want to feel safe. You want to wear your jersey and shout for them and make it clear where your loyalties are without having a beer thrown at you or without having a negative experience."
On why TV blackouts still persist: "Well, because it's worked, very simply. We're the only league to stay on free television, we've grown in popularity. 96 percent of games are sold out, so we're doing pretty well, it's been a nice balance between getting people into stadiums and remaining on free television."
On whether he'll ever run for elected office: "No"
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org