NFL: Goodell visits Panthers camp
By Pete Iacobelli
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thanked several hundred Carolina Panthers fans for their support during the long lockout and said the league is working on ways to make the NFL Network available to more homes.
Goodell said Wednesday the league began negotiating with Time-Warner Cable to include the NFL Network as part of its system’s programing. Goodell said the league had reached a new deal with Charter Communications and hoped to broaden the network’s distribution beyond its current 62 million homes.
“You’ll be happy to know that we’re in negotiations today with Time Warner,” Goodell said. “We’re trying to get that done. We believe it’s good for fans and it’s good for Time Warner.”
If so, it would be another way Goodell has satisfied NFL fans. He got a largely warm reception from Panthers fans happy that labor problems won’t impact the season. NFL owners and players agreed last month on a 10-year agreement that ended a lockout that threatened to take away games.
“We know it’s been a trying offseason, but we are grateful for your support,” he told the group. “We believe what we’ve been able to accomplish this offseason with a 10-year collective bargaining agreement will allow us to ensure great football for you.”
Goodell took questions for about 45 minutes that ranged from whether the new rules on safety make the game too soft — “I tell you what, put your pads on and come right out here and play with those guys,” the commissioner said, gesturing to the practicing NFL team — to whether there will be NFL expansion.
One fan asked if Goodell was open to surrendering his disciplinary power to a committee as some players have called for. “I’m not going to hand off the brand the reputation of the NFL to somebody who is not associated with the NFL. I promise you that,” he said.
Goodell considered deciding on player or owner discipline one of a commissioner’s most important jobs. Goodell noted he even had to fine Carolina owner Jerry Richardson once before the owner, sitting nearby in his golf cart, held up two fingers, to laughter.
“Obviously, he didn’t forget,” he said.
Another question wondered if players who commit serious crimes like Jets receiver Plaxico Burress should face stiffer NFL penalties on top of their jail sentences. Goodell said each case was different and if a player showed remorse and understood their transgression, no additional punishment from the league was necessary. He cited Michael Vick who has seen his career reborn in Philadelphia after serving time for his role in a dog-fighting operation.
“He’s provided a great example that you can overcome mistakes in life,” Goodell said. “And that’s what life’s all about.”
Goodell said in answer to a question about franchises outside the United States that he thought there might be a chance for a team in London over the next decade. The league has played several exhibition games in the city to good reviews.
A fan with a troll-like Panther blue wig who identified himself as “Catman, the Hall-of-Fame super fan,” asked if the NFL could lower ticket prices for preseason games because tickets generally cost more during the playoffs. Goodell said he’s heard complaints like that from many NFL fans and that’s why owners and players discussed an 18-game schedule that would cut the preseason from four games to two. While it wasn’t part of this CBA, Goodell said it’s something that will come up with the players again in the next few years.
Goodell said the stop at Wofford College was the first of about a half dozen he’ll make this summer. He’s likely to get similar positive reactions. Ed Geraghty of Simpsonville, S.C., thanked Goodell and Richardson for their negotiating roles “Sunday is not Sunday without church first and the NFL second,” he said.
Richardson said Goodell was instrumental is keeping owners in line without pushing an agenda. “That’s unusual for a commissioner,” Richardson said.
Goodell said the hardest part of negotiations was getting people to listen to each other. The barriers began to break down last month at meetings in Chicago when both sides got rid of attorneys and held a dinner with Goodell, his counterpart on the players’ side in DeMaurice Smith, five owners and five players. “I think we made more progress in those two days than we did in six months,” Goodell said.
Not all inquiries dealt with league business. 10-year-old Aislin Salerno of Mill Spring, N.C., asked if Goodell thought the Panthers No. 1 pick Cam Newton would be an NFL star. “I’m not a scout,” he said with a smile. “But I’m certainly hopeful he’s going to be a great player.”