Answer My Question, Commish!
By Vernon Davis
1. My question. I came to the State of the NFL address to ask Roger Goodell this: "We play America’s most dangerous and most lucrative game, yet players have to jump through hoops for health benefits. Why doesn’t the NFL offer health care for life, especially for those suffering from brain injuries?" Goodell said there were discussions about that in the bargaining process, and that the current benefits are the best in the world. He added, "We all still have a lot of work to do for former players." That I can agree with.
Otherwise, I think the commissioner danced around the question, and could’ve elaborated more. It sounded like he was saying the lack of lifetime health care is not his responsibility, and he pointed to the CBA we all agreed to. My problem is this: The owners shouldn’t be fighting against providing health care for life. Some of us are millionaires, but most are not, and everyone comes out of this game damaged in this way. The NFL should be hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Without us, the NFL is nothing.
2. A wasted opportunity. To those of my fellow reporters who asked goofy questions of Goodell—shame on you. Was it essential to know if the commissioner is tested for marijuana, given all of the serious issues facing the league in 2014?
3. Future cold-weather Super Bowls. Commissioner Goodell said it was imperative that we play Super Bowls in different cities, and the game isn’t about the weather, but the play on the field. This is a mixed bag. I think it’s important to play in different communities around the country in order to create job opportunities in new cities, but there are a few places I wouldn’t want to see a Super Bowl played in. New York is fine, because it’s New York, but nobody wants to play in or attend a February game in Green Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota or Detroit, dome or not.
4. Bad for the NFL’s image. Goodell was asked to address the medicinal benefits of marijuana, with Washington and Colorado—states with NFL teams—having legalized the drug. He stressed that testing will remain the same going forward, and it will still be a punishable offense to test positive for marijuana for the foreseeable future. I’m with the commissioner on this one. As a pro athlete and someone who’s well-respected nationally and looked up to, I think smoking marijuana is a bad example to set. You’d see 12-year-olds smoking marijuana because they saw players do it. For the same reason I can’t appear in an ad for a liquor brand, players shouldn’t be allowed to smoke. It’s about the image.
5. Unionize! Asked what he thought of a college players union and how it would affect the NFL, the commissioner pled ignorance on the topic. As a former college athlete, I’m supportive of any effort that allows players to cash in on their amateur status within the rules. If a video game company wants to use the likeness of a student athlete, that player should receive a stipend. A lot of young men who are on full scholarships come from low-income homes and struggle the way I did, despite my Pell grant. Some form of compensation would be a deterrent to breaking the rules.
6. A successful Super Bowl. The commissioner discussed why the New York Super Bowl is working out so well. He cited the city’s preparedness, in safety measures and otherwise. It’s not over yet, but I have to agree this has been a fantastic experience. Still, I’d caution people against a false sense of security. Every city is vulnerable, and especially New York during this week. You can’t control people; they’re going to do what they want to do regardless.
7. Why concussions have gone down. I agreed with Goodell’s take on why concussions have declined, and I’m happy with the progress being made. Changes to the rules, better equipment and greater awareness have all contributed to less highlight-reel knockouts. Guys who are known as hard hitters, like Dashon Goldson, are getting penalized and suspended because of helmet-to-helmet hits. Now guys like him are scared. Mission accomplished.
8. More questions for Goodell. If I had the opportunity, I’d ask Goodell why he isn’t enforcing the uniform policy and requiring players to wear un-tampered pads for our own benefit. I’d also ask him about the NFL’s engagement program, which is in place to help players plan for and transition to post-NFL life, and its failure to minimize the number of players who go broke after playing football. Some of us need leadership in a lot of ways, and we’re not getting it from the league.
9. My take on a franchise in L.A. The St. Louis media asked Goodell about the possibility of their team moving to Los Angeles, and he danced around the question. From a player perspective, I’d caution a struggling franchise against relocating to Los Angeles. Much like in Miami, younger players would struggle with temptation and distractions.
10. Sorry! But next year I don’t plan on rejoining you all for the State of the Union. We’ll be at the team hotel that day, getting ready to play.