GLENDALE, Ariz. — While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell considers the national anthem a “special moment” and a “point of pride,” he wants to respect the rights of players across the league to sit during the anthem as a form of protest.
Goodell voiced his feelings during a question-and-answer session for Arizona Cardinals season-ticket holders before training camp Monday. A question was posed to Goodell about whether anthem protests this season were “going to be another problem.”
On Saturday, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat on a cooler during the national anthem before a preseason game against the Cardinals, and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett sat for the anthem before his game at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
“It’s one of those things where we have to understand that there are people who have different viewpoints,” Goodell said. “It’s something that I think everybody wants. The national anthem is a special moment for me. It’s a point of pride. That is a really important moment but we also have to understand the other side — that people do have rights, and we want to respect those.”
Goodell said he had a similar discussion during a New York Jets fan forum a couple weeks ago. A player, whom Goodell did not name, was asked about the ongoing silent protest, Goodell said. The player, according to Goodell, said there was “a time and a place” to engage in protest.
That, Goodell said Monday, is one of the key components for players to recognize.
“That’s what we all have to, sort of, understand — the responsibility of doing it at the right time and in the right way,” Goodell said.
“Protest to progress is what I call it. We all have to recognize that people want to see change. Let’s go out and try to make that happen in a peaceful and an important way.”
Goodell touched on other topics, as well.
He said the NFL never likes to see two star players get suspended to start consecutive seasons, as was the case with New England quarterback Tom Brady missing four games in 2016 and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sentenced to a six-game suspension this year. “Those things are dictated by circumstances,” Goodell said. “We do everything we can to make sure that we’re enforcing our policies and holding standards to the highest level. That’s an unfortunate part of that, but that is what you do.”
Goodell said the NFL has not heard from fans who are concerned about traveling to London for this season’s slate of International Series games despite two major terror attacks in England this year, and that ticket sales remain strong. “We’re not seeing that in our ticket sales,” Goodell said. “Obviously there could be fans who look at that and say, ‘That’s not something we want to do,’ but we’re not seeing that. Our ticket sales will be stronger than ever.”
Despite the National Institute of Health’s decision to let its partnership with the NFL expire on Aug. 31 with about $16 million of a $30 million donation from 2012 unused, Goodell said the league is committed to spending the remainder of its pledge. “We’re working with the NIH to figure out how to spend that effectively and do it to support research that’s so badly needed,” Goodell said.
Goodell said he spoke with between 80 and 100 players, including Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, about the NFL’s decision to relax celebration penalties.
While Goodell says adding 21 full-time officials will help make officiating “a little more consistent,” he understands they won’t be a “silver bullet.” “I don’t think it’s going to solve all our problems,” Goodell said. “These guys are human. They’re going to make mistakes, but I do think it’ll be a benefit.”
Goodell called the current era of football — with all the research that’s going into head injuries, and all the advancements in technology in and around the game — the best time to be playing the sport: “I think there’s never been a better time to play football and a safer time to play football.”
Goodell doesn’t think the quality of the preseason games matches the quality of the regular-season games “by any stretch of the imagination,” which could eventually lead to the reduction of the preseason from four to three games. Goodell said he asked Cardinals coach Bruce Arians if teams could prepare their players the same way with three preseason games instead of four, and Arians said it’s possible.
Goodell said the NFL is considering a developmental league that would take place in the fall or spring and allow teams to get players into their system and run their plays.
The NFL is “evaluating” a game in China, Goodell said. “That’s something we’d like to do.”