Roger Goodell stresses protecting league integrity following 'tough year' at a tense state of the NFL press conference
Roger Goodell has had arguably the most difficult year of his nine-year tenure as commissioner of the NFL.
Between domestic violence incidents, player safety concerns, league expansion, international travel, possible team relocation, his relationship with owners, accusations of hypocrisy and conflicts of interest during investigations, and criticism of his own massive salary, Goodell admitted 2014 was difficult.
That said, he has never doubted his future as the commissioner " as he explained in an at times tense address ahead of this weekend's Super Bowl.
"It has been a tough year on me, personally," Goodell said Friday during his annual state of the league press conference.
"It's been a year of humility and learning. Obviously, as an organisation, we have gone through adversity and adversity for me. But we take that as an opportunity to get better. We've all done a lot of soul searching, beginning with yours truly.
"It's been a tough year, but a year of great progress. We want to make a difference in this area... and in society in general."
After congratulating the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots for reaching Super Bowl XLIX, Goodell addressed several issues that have plagued the league over the year.
On domestic violence and sexual assault, Goodell said the league is working with organisations to "normalise the conversation and bring awareness" to the issues.
Goodell admitted shortcomings in understanding the issue, but said the NFL has "made enormous strides" and has hired people to bring expertise to investigations involving personal conduct and domestic violence.
"We agreed that we needed to take action," Goodell said. "How can we do a better job of managing these complex issues? We have great people who work in the NFL and we are adding these resources and assets to make sure we have a thorough and objective process. The outcome we want is fair and with the truth to be clear.
"I truly believe that we will make progress because the NFL is filled with good and caring people. We will do what is expected of us."
Questions quickly shifted to the investigations using independent, yet league-paid, investigators.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller looked into how the league handled the Ray Rice domestic violence incident and New York lawyer Ted Wells is investigating whether the Patriots knowingly used deflated balls during the AFC championship game.
"Somebody has to pay them and I don't think you're volunteering," Goodell bullishly responded, fiercely rejecting claims that there is a conflict of interest in the investigations and defending Mueller and Wells.
"They are people who have uncompromising integrity," Goodell said.
Goodell has also come under fire about his relationship with owners, specifically Patriots owner Robert Kraft, after Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman criticised the commissioner for attending an AFC championship game party at Kraft's house.
"It's not unusual that I work closely with ownership, particularly Robert Kraft, who is on several committees and works on multiple league initiatives," he explained. "I know him well and he knows me well and he knows that I am not going to do anything to compromise the league."
When asked specifically about "Deflate-gate," Goodell said Wells is conducting a "thorough and objective investigation" and when the investigation has been completed, the league will publicly share the results.
"We take seriously anything that directly impacts the integrity of the game," Goodell said during his 48-minute press conference. "We are focusing on two things, why were the footballs used and was this a result of deliberate action?"
Goodell handed out severe penalties in 2012 following the Saints bounty scandal, but said those punishments will not affect the Patriots investigation because they are separate issues and each case is handled individually.
"My job is to protect the integrity of the game," Goodell said. "All of us want to make sure the rules ware followed. If the rules are violated, I have to pursue that. This is my job. Our partners and fans expect that and we will do it vigorously."
The NFL have face criticism for forcing players like Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to speak to reporters when it's clear he doesn't want to.
Players have asked Goodell to make himself available on a regular basis, like they have to be. In response to that on Friday, Goodell said he is "available to the media almost every day."
"When you're in the NFL, you have an obligation to the fans and it is part of your job," said Goodell, who added that there has not been a decision on whether Lynch would be fined for wearing his unsanctioned "Beast Mode" attire to media events.
"There are things in our job that you might not want to do. I think Marshawn understands the importance of his role in the game. Fans want to know. I understand it's not on the top of the list, but everyone else is doing it. It's part of the job and being in the Super Bowl."