PHOENIX — Where’s Roger? On Sept. 7, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell plans to attend a Patriots game at Gillette Stadium.
“I plan to be at the kickoff game,” Goodell said Tuesday evening in Phoenix as the NFL wrapped up its annual owners meetings a day early.
Goodell hasn’t been back to Gillette Stadium since the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015. The scandal that became known as Deflategate broke the next day, and Goodell, previously a frequent visitor to Foxborough, hasn’t been back for a game since. During the playoffs this past January, Goodell chose to attend the Falcons’ playoff games in consecutive weeks in Atlanta instead of coming to New England.
But he’ll finally return Sept. 7, when the Patriots host the NFL’s annual kickoff game as the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Goodell, wildly unpopular in New England after levying a four-game suspension on Tom Brady and docking the Patriots first- and fourth-round draft picks, will be on hand to watch the Patriots raise their fifth championship banner and open their 2017 regular season. The opponent that night has yet to be determined.
“We all know he has the right to go wherever he wishes to go,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Monday. “And if he wants to come, he’s welcome to come. We’re happy that we’ll be celebrating our fifth banner, and he can decide whether he wants to be there.’’
Goodell touched on a handful of topics at his press conference, several of them revolving around the Raiders’ upcoming move to Las Vegas, which was approved by NFL owners Monday by a 31-1 vote:
■ Goodell said the NFL still “strongly” opposes legalized gambling, even with the Raiders set to play in the gambling capital of the United States. And the league will not change its current policy, which does not allow players to visit legal sports books. The NFL in the past has forced Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to cancel a fantasy sports convention because it was being held in a Las Vegas casino.
But Goodell said that the NFL is embracing Las Vegas because it’s becoming a lot more than just a gambling city.
“Las Vegas is not the same city it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s a much more diverse city. It’s become an entertainment Mecca,” he said. “It is the fastest-growing city in the country.”
Goodell said he’s not concerned about the pitfalls of putting a team in Las Vegas — or no more concerned than he is for any other city. Giants receiver Brandon Marshall said Monday that putting a 21-year-old in Las Vegas could be “overwhelming,” and on Tuesday, the Las Vegas Sun reported that a local entrepreneur is planning on opening a Raiders-themed brothel that would have a special VIP section just for Raiders players.
“My experience is 21-year-olds can learn to find trouble in a lot of different places,” Goodell said. “That’s one of the reasons why we focus so much on our personal-conduct policies. It’s educating, helping players make better judgments, giving them better information so they avoid problems. We’re going to have to obviously keep the focus on that no matter where our franchises are.”
■ The NFL owners spent much of the two-day meeting focusing on improving the presentation of NFL games and reducing the dead time in broadcasts, while also discussing new rules for the 2017 season. One proposal that was tabled until the next round of owners meetings in May was the NFL’s goal of allowing players more leeway in their celebrations.
“I’d like to meet with a group of players, try to get some more input from them,” Goodell said. “We also want to do more work on just bringing clarity to the rule, while allowing our players more ability to express themselves and celebrate.”
■ Goodell was also asked about free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and the accusation by filmmaker Spike Lee and many others that Kaepernick is being “blackballed” by the NFL for his decision last season to sit for the national anthem.
“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way,” Goodell said. “My experience in 35 years is that our clubs make any player evaluations, if they think a player can improve their team, they’re going to do that.”