Roger Goodell signs autographs for fans after Thursday night's fan forum at Wofford College. (AP Photo)
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to fans for about 45 minutes Wednesday night at Wofford College on a variety of issues and was greeted well by the crowd of several hundred.
A couple of fans even went as far as to thank Goodell and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson for their respective roles in getting a collective bargaining agreement in place that helped pave the way for an undisrupted regular season.
Goodell said the NFL is hoping to put the final touches on ratifying the CBA agreement with players Thursday, a move that will allow signed free agents and players with new contracts like Charles Johnson, Greg Olsen and DeAngelo Williams to get on the field as previously planned. There’s a possibility that could be delayed if an agreement isn’t reached, but Goodell is optimistic things will get worked out.
“Well that’s certainly our intention,” Goodell said told reporters after the fan forum. “If we can sign a collective bargaining agreement by (Thursday) morning we certainly expect the new league year to start and for players to be out here.”
One of the lighter moments of the fan forum came when Goodell was asked if he would consider handing over his power to enforce the personal conduct policy to a disciplinary committee.
“The answer to that is no, I’m not going to be open to that,” Goodell said succinctly. “I’m not going to hand off the brand and the reputation of the NFL to somebody who is not associated with the NFL. I promise you that. That is one of the number one jobs as a commissioner in my opinion. And Mr. Richardson doesn’t like this because he’s my boss, one of 32, but I have disciplinary power over them and have had the unfortunate experience of fining him too, by the way.”
At that point Richardson, sitting behind Goodell in a golf cart, held up two fingers.
Goodell turned around and saw Richardson, laughed and said, “Yes, twice. You're right.”
It's Goodell's first fan forum since the end of the lockout.
Fans’ questions ranged from his role as commissioner to player safety to whether or not there will be an 18-game season down the road and the competitive balance of the league.
Goodell was polite and courteous throughout, but did seem to take exception when a fan where he draws the line between player safety and making the game “too soft” by fining players for illegal hits.
“I tell you what, put your pads on and come out and play with those guys,” Goodell responded to the fan. “You think it’s too soft. Look at those guys (on the field warming up). You still think it’s too soft? I don’t buy that for one second. Those players play a very tough game and they play it at an extremely high level.
“The game has changed. It’s not the same game it was. We’re going to continue to make changes that improve the game and protect the safety of players. I know people like to talk tough like that but I don’t buy it for a second.”
Goodell has done fan forums like this before but never at Wofford College and not since the new collective bargaining agreement was reached.
“It was great to hear from the fans,” Goodell said. “You get a lot of important feedback from the fans and it was important to hear that. They ask some pretty tough questions.”
Richardson was appreciative for Goodell making Carolina his first stop on what’s expected to be a six-team training camp tour.
“I thought it would be tremendous for us and as someone mentioned this is the first stop he’s made and I feel very grateful,” Richardson said.