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6th February 2010

NFL chief Roger Goodell plays down 2011 salary dispute lockout

• Players executive predicts labour lockout
• Uncertainty cancels out second UK game

The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, has dismissed the suggestion that team owners would be rather see the 2011 season abandoned than reach a compromise in their ongoing labour dispute.

Yesterday the NFL Players Association’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, said that team owners had secured television deals that paid regardless of whether games were played and said that on a scale of 1-10, the likelihood of a labour lockout in 2011 was a “14” .

Speaking at his annual state-of-the-league press conference, Goodell sought to play down such claims, stating that it was in nobody’s interests for the 2011 season to be abandoned.

“The idea that ownership would be anxious for a work stoppage is absolutely false,” said Goodell. “You don’t make money by shutting down your business. I can assure you the ownership and I believe the players – in talking to individual players – want to get an agreement and want to work to do that. We are currently committed to do that and I am right there at the forefront.

“It comes to anything like that [a work stoppage], we would all have failed and I think we have to work. That is why we are determined and committed to be able to reach a fair agreement.”

Goodell said that no contingency plans had been put in place for a labour lockout and said that the league was focused only on the “immediate future”.

With the owners having opted out of the existing collective bargaining agreement, the 2010 season is set to be played without a salary cap. While this had widely been accepted as a foregone conclusion, the commissioner expressed the hope that “something could get done”.

Team owners claim their profits were being squeezed by the previous agreement, which stipulated that 59% of the league’s revenues should be spent on players’ salaries and bonuses. The NFLPA feels such claims are being exaggerated and has called on owners to hand over their financial records, which so far only the Green Bay Packers have agreed to do.

“We were all for transparency,” said Goodell. “Our players have a tremendous amount of the economic data. Other leagues have opened their books but unfortunately that is not the Holy Grail and those leagues still went into lockouts and extended lockouts.

“What is important is for [players] to understand, and we have shared with them the basic economic data to say the system isn’t working. The owners are actually $200m worse off than they were in 2006. So the system is not working for at least one side of the equation.”

Goodell sought to play down Smith’s claim that it wold be virtually impossible to reintroduce a salary cap once the uncapped year begins next month, but suggested that even if it were to become difficult there would still be other ways for the league to preserve parity among its teams.

He also conceded that the ongoing uncertainty created by the dispute was the main reason that the league had opted not to hold a second regular season game in the UK in 2010.

Among the other issues raised in the press conference was that of player concussions, a hot topic in the NFL after studies showed players were far more likely to suffer mental illness in old age. Goodell said that concussions had been a “major focus” for the league for several years and that potential rule and equipment modifications were always being considered.

“We need to make sure we continue to do what we can to make the game safer,” he said. “That goes for all injuries, but particularly concussion injuries. We have more work to do, but we think that we’re making progress on the awareness and we’re changing the culture, and that’s what we really want to do. We want to make sure people understand that they are serious injuries, and make sure that we deal with them in a conservative and medical fashion.”

Goodell also confirmed that the Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth would be reinstated to the league after Super Bowl XLIV. Stallworth was suspended without pay for the entire 2009 season after being convicted of manslaughter, having hit and killed a pedestrian with his car while legally drunk.


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