TAMPA — Tom Brady has always insisted he has no animosity toward Roger Goodell despite the commissioner suspending Brady for four games to start the 2016 season over a ball-inflation scheme and cover up.
But it’s obvious the feelings aren’t warm and fuzzy.
“What the league did to him, what Roger Goodell constantly lied about, is beyond reprehensible as far as I’m concerned,” Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., said in 2017.
All Brady has done since his suspension is qualify for four of the next five Super Bowls, including this weekend’s game between the Buccaneers and Chiefs. Brady, at age 43, is still the face of the NFL and accomplishing feats that were previously thought impossible for athletes his age.
So, I went to Goodell’s annual Super Bowl news conference on Thursday curious about how things are between he and Brady. I asked Goodell how he would describe their relationship, what Brady means to the NFL, and if he still believed that suspending Brady for four games was an appropriate punishment.
Goodell punted on the first and third questions, but he delivered a nice tribute to Brady.
“Tom Brady has shown that he is probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” Goodell said. “His leadership, his ability to rise to the big occasions and make everybody rise around him, that’s what’s absolutely incredible to me. Everyone just plays better when they’re with him.”
Goodell continued: “He’s an exceptional talent, and more importantly he’s one of the great guys. I’ve known him for probably 15 years, and he’s an extraordinary guy. He’s real and he cares about this game deeply. He cares about people from all over the game, so from me, I wish him well, I think he’s going to continue to be a great performer. I’m glad to hear he’s going to play a few more years.”
Goodell’s contract as commissioner runs through the 2023 season, at which time it has been rumored that he will retire. Is there any doubt now that Brady is going to outlast him?
Some other news and notes from Goodell’s 40-minute news conference:
▪ The NFL achieved its goal this season to “avoid the asterisk,” as Goodell put it. An “asterisk” season would have been one in which games had to be canceled or the season shortened or lengthened because of the pandemic. Instead, the NFL got its entire season in, right on schedule. Goodell said it took an “extraordinary effort” from the thousands of players, coaches, and personnel involved.
“We had to adapt at every stage just like everyone else,” Goodell said. “I couldn’t be prouder that the NFLPA and NFL worked together in, I think, unprecedented fashion to be able to find those solutions together.”
▪ Goodell conceded that the NFL is “not satisfied” with the progress of minority hiring, particularly at head coach, where only two of the seven hires were non-white and only one coach was Black, in a league where 70 percent of the players are Black.
“We feel like we can do better, and we’re going to,” Goodell said. “I’m not sure there’s an issue that we spent more time with ownership on … We had two minority [head] coaches hired this year, but it wasn’t what we expected, and it’s not what we expect going forward.”
Goodell did highlight that several minority candidates were hired as general managers and coordinators, and said that the convenience of virtual technology helped more candidates get interviews this year.
“That gave coaches an opportunity to interview without disrupting their preparations for the postseason,” Goodell said.
▪ Goodell also sidestepped a question about Colin Kaepernick and whether he would apologize to the quarterback for being blackballed by the owners.
“I said very clearly back in June we wish we had listened to our players earlier,” Goodell said. “Colin was one of the individuals that brought a great deal of attention to this, and he deserves our recognition for that and our appreciation … From our standpoint, we now have a platform and an ability to work with our players to address those issues that they’ve identified in our communities.”
▪ Goodell said it’s too early to know much about the 2021 season — whether the NFL will still have to use COVID-19 protocols, what the offseason programs will look like, whether fans will be in the stands, or whether vaccines will be required to participate in the league or attend a game.
“I don’t know when normal is going to occur yet,” Goodell said. “I know this, we have learned to operate in a very difficult environment, we have found solutions, and we’ll do it again.
“We expect much of our society will be vaccinated by the summer. We’ll adapt, and if our protocols have to adapt to that, they will.”
The NFLPA is pushing to eliminate offseason programs following the success of this season, and Goodell acknowledged that the previous form of offseason practices may never return.
“Virtual is going to be part of our life for a long time,” he said. “But I also believe, our coaches feel strongly, that there’s value in the training camp. There’s value in practices and preseason games where you can develop young players. The veterans may not need that as much. Those are the types of things we’ll balance as we go into the offseason.”
▪ The collective bargaining agreement signed last spring gives the owners the right to expand the regular season to 17 games starting in 2021. Most observers expect the NFL to exercise that option for this fall, but Goodell said the NFL won’t turn its focus to it until after the Super Bowl. Goodell also said the NFL is planning on holding international games again in 2021 in London and Mexico City, but it’s also too early to know.
▪ Goodell said he hopes next year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles “will be filled with fans, not just inside the stadium.” Goodell said Tampa should get consideration for another Super Bowl relatively soon given the hit the region took on this week’s game because of the pandemic, but it’s the owners’ call, not Goodell’s.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.