NEW YORK — National Football League officials said they have “redoubled our efforts” to improve the environment for players following the Miami Dolphins harassment scandal.
The officials were answering questions from a gathering of Associated Press Sports Editors on April 24. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL executives were asked about the repercussions from the bullying incidents involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.
“You never want to see any story that reflects on that we don’t have the right workplace environment,” Goodell said. “We’ve redoubled our efforts to make sure we provide the right environment … for everybody in the NFL.”
Officiating director Dean Blandino added that, in an effort to have on-field action in which the players are respectful, there will be a heavy emphasis on reducing taunting. From 2012 to 2013, the number of taunting incidents increased from nine to 34.
“It’s important having the right culture in place, a culture of respect for the game, for each other, for coaches, officials and fans,” added Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s chief diversity officer. “We’ll engage in positive training with the 32 clubs.”
Asked about the first openly gay player, Michael Sam of Missouri, soon entering the league, NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said the league was looking forward to welcoming Sam into its ranks.
Vincent, a star defensive back for 15 seasons and former president of the NFL Players Association, said he played with “six openly gay players inside the locker room” who did not publicly announce their sexual orientation.
“It worked, we won many football games,” Vincent said. “They were players and we didn’t see them any differently.”
Goodell said also that the NFL will discuss expanded playoffs at the owners’ meetings this month in Atlanta. He added that a vote is uncertain on the proposal to add two teams to the postseason.
Should the owners vote on the increase in May, Goodell said, the 14-team playoffs could be implemented for the
upcoming season or for 2015. If no vote is taken, then 2015 would be the target for expanded playoffs, with a vote possible in October or next March.
The league also would need to consult with the players union on the matter but it seems clear more playoff teams are on the way.
“We’re being very deliberate about it,” Goodell said. “We want to make sure we do it in the right way.”
The NFL also will experiment with snapping the ball from the 15-yard line on extra points in the first two weeks of the preseason to make them more challenging. A kick from that distance would wind up being about 33 yards. Previously, the plan had been to experiment with moving kicks back to the 20.
But, in conversations with the league’s competition committee and various teams, Blandino said, it became apparent a 33-yard extra point was a wiser choice for the experiment.
NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said the league remains optimistic that a U.S. district judge will approve the $765 million concussion settlement with former players. The judge, Anita Brody, has expressed concerns the fund may not be large enough to cover up to 20,000 retired players for 65 years.
“We’re confident we will get it done,” Pash said. “I think we’re getting close to the point where we’ll have a package that’s satisfactory. Our overriding goal is that both sides get this structure in place so we can begin providing compensation to people who need it.”