Jan 3, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA;  Los Angeles Rams plays their final home game of the season against the Arizona Cardinals in an empty SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Roger Goodell: Expectation is for full stadiums in fall

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he anticipates packed venues across the league this fall.

“All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back,” Goodell said Tuesday. “Football is simply not the same without the fans and we expect to have full stadiums in the 2021 season.”

Games went on in 2020 in either empty stadiums or those with fans numbering well below capacity because of the threat of COVID-19. But with the U.S. poised to administer three million vaccinations every day, Goodell is optimistic.

Further, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ESPN’s “First Take” earlier this month that there is reason for a positive outlook.

“I hope that by the time we get to the end of the summer, the beginning of the fall, we’ll be very close to what we could consider ‘normal,’” Fauci said.

NFL total attendance in 2020 was 1.2 million, down from nearly 17 million in 2019. Most of the fans attended stadiums in Texas and Florida, where state regulations allowed greater capacity.

–Field Level Media

Jan 31, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks during the NFLPA press conference in advance of the Super Bowl LIII where the New England Patriots will play the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes_Benz Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

NFLPA expects virtual offseason, skeptical about vaccine availability

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith anticipates the upcoming offseason closely mirroring the 2020 pandemic-altered approach the NFL adopted in the name of player safety.

Smith said there is a “very high likelihood” minicamps and offseason team activities will remain virtual, although some accommodations for first-year coaches and rookies could be made.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL learned it could work smarter, not harder, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL and players’ union will begin discussing their approach to the offseason next week, Smith said.

The NFL draft is unlikely to be an in-person, fan-friendly event and the league already punted on the late February scouting combine. Personnel evaluations of incoming pro prospects will instead take place at pro days. Some in-person contact with prospects might be allowed, but more video interviews and workouts with draft-eligible players are expected.

Union president JC Tretter, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, said Thursday the players were “sharper, fresher” at the end of the season because of the shift away from in-person meetings and training at team facilities. Earlier this week, Tretter wrote in a memo released by the NFLPA that players should plan to fight the pandemic for at least another season.

“We will likely still feel the effects of the pandemic well into 2021,” Tretter wrote, “and as a result, we can expect to return to the bargaining table with the NFL yet again to re-examine all relevant issues as we look forward to the 2021 football season.”

Smith shared his skepticism about training camp and preseason games in 2021. No preseason games were played in August 2020. Availability of a vaccine could have an impact on players and coaches, but Goodell said safety will drive every decision.

“We’re proponents of the vaccine,” Goodell said. “That’s important for health of our communities. It’s too early to say if vaccines will be part of the solution. We hope much of our society will be vaccinated by the summer. We’ll adapt.”

Goodell said earlier Thursday that the NFL will not begin considering sold-out stadiums and “normal” Sunday scenes for several weeks, but hinted that “normal” for the league might need to be redefined.

“To think we’re going to be in a vaccine-neutral state by September is probably not the case,” Smith said.

–Field Level Media

Sep 13, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA;  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wears a face mask during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. The Rams defeated the Cowoboys 20-17.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Roger Goodell on 2020 season: Safety was driving every decision we made

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reflected on the season completed in the midst of a pandemic in his annual Super Bowl week address on Thursday.

Goodell delivered remarks from an outdoor rooftop setting in Tampa, the first in-person media event of the abnormal Super Bowl week before the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play Super Bowl LV on Sunday night.

“This was an extraordinary collective effort,” Goodell said in a question-and-answer session sprinkled with sunlight. “There’s so many people that had to work together to get this done. … We believed that staying on schedule and working to try to get 256 games done as we try to say, ‘avoid the asterisk.

“We had to adapt at every stage, just like the media, just like everybody else. We had to find innovate solutions to challenges.”

Super Bowl LV is the proverbial bow on a season unlike any other in NFL history. All 256 regular-season games were played amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in a league year that began in March as the world started to shelter in place due to coronavirus.

Goodell said “we hope we were in some way representative in doing things the right way” when asked about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice against gathering in groups on Super Bowl Sunday.

“We worked with the CDC about their advice about staying home — we’re all going to enjoy the Super Bowl a little different this year,” Goodell said.

Around 25,000 tickets are issued for the Super Bowl in a season in which the NFL had just 1.2 million fans at regular-season games.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is playing in his 10th Super Bowl, and is five years removed from the “Deflategate” scandal that led to Goodell suspending him.

“Tom Brady has shown that he’s probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” Goodell said. “Everyone just plays better when they’re with him. … He’s an extraordinary guy. He cares deeply about this game. I wish him well. I think he’s going to continue to be a great performer. I’m happy to hear he’s going to play a few more years.”

Goodell again was asked to answer for the NFL’s continued issues with hiring diverse head coaches.

“I’m not sure there’s an issue we’ve spent more time working with our ownership on. We look at this as broadly as possible. We want to make the NFL more diverse,” Goodell said, pointing out three minority general managers were hired. “It wasn’t what we expected. … They’re not the outcomes we wanted. But we want it to be a natural process. A process, what we believe in is diversity making us better.”

Asked if he would consider an ownership summit to discuss diversity in hiring head coaches, Goodell reiterated that the NFL has raised “this issue and the importance of doing this better” at every ownership meeting.

“Yes, we’ll have more discussions for sure, both individually and collectively,” Goodell said. “I’ll reinforce again — while we may be disappointed in head coaches, there are a lot of positives we need to continue to build on.”

Goodell also said he “wished we would have listened to our players earlier” with respect to Colin Kaepernick’s demonstrations in the name of social justice.

Goodell was corrected on stage by emcee Steve Wyche of NFL Network when he called the Washington Football Team “the Redskins” and quickly shook it off as a “bad habit.”

When the NFL turns the page to a new league year in mid-March, Goodell said “virtual is going to be part of our life for the long-term.” For the first time in league history, the 2020 NFL Draft was held entirely as a virtual event with Goodell announcing selections from his basement.

Offseason training camps could be a mix of in-person and remote training, but no determination has been made. Goodell said the NFL protocols made team facilities some of the safest places a person could be because of an unwillingness to compromise on safety.

“I think we’ve proven, working together between the NFL and the NFLPA we’ve been able to put our differences away and aside. Find those areas of common interest, look past our differences for solutions,” Goodell said. “I think we have learned a great deal. … I expect the offseason, we’ve already started on that. The combine is going to go through significant changes. I expect a lot of the things we did last offseason with respect to training camp, the offseason. … There were a lot of positives in that.”

The plan entering next season will be to wait and make decisions as the timing becomes clear and be prepared for uncertainty.

“I don’t know when normal is going to occur again,” Goodell said. “I don’t know if normal ever will occur again. I don’t know if anybody here can do that. I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions. And we’ll do it again.”

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith joined Goodell on stage for the final 10 minutes of the session and acknowledged “a few dustups” with the league over the years. But he said it took dedication and teamwork on both sides to make the 2020 season a success.

“We’ve learned that we can work smarter and work better. What a great message for our country,” Smith said. “Using (Goodell’s) words, I think the NFL’s best days are ahead of us.”

Goodell said the NFL is “planning for international games in 2021” in the UK and Mexico. The International Series was scrapped during 2020 due to challenges related to the pandemic.

–Field Level Media

Aug 24, 2020; Costa Mesa California, USA; A face mask advisory sign at Los Angeles Chargers training camp amid the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Report: No positive tests for NFL players, coaches

All NFL players and coaches involved in Sunday games passed tests for COVID-19 and “should be good to go,” pending a health check upon arrival at stadiums, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted.

The news came days after The Washington Post published an op-ed penned by commissioner Roger Goodell and Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, that discussed starting the season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have worked with players, teams and medical experts to build a comprehensive game plan. Our hope is that transparency about our operations will contribute knowledge and insights that will aid the country’s pandemic response,” they wrote in the piece, which appeared Thursday before the NFL’s first game of the season.

Still, the acknowledged they don’t expect smooth sailing.

“We also know that effort alone cannot control the virus or its effects,” the op-ed read. “There will be speed bumps and perhaps detours along the way. The NFL is not any more immune to the virus than are our colleagues in other sports or the rest of society. This will be hard. But just as the league survived a pandemic challenge (1918 Spanish Flu) at its inception, we believe that we have the right measures in place as we embark on a second century of football.”

–Field Level Media