NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addresses diversity efforts, state of officiating ahead of Super Bowl LVII

PHOENIX -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed a number of key league issues -- including diversity efforts, officiating and player health and safety -- during his news conference on Wednesday ahead of Super Bowl LVII.

Goodell told reporters that the league is "pleased to see progress" in its efforts to increase diversity at the coaching and executive level, but that "we always look to see how can we do better."

Goodell credited the implementation of the NFL coach and front office accelerator program this past year as something that helped introduce teams to a more diverse candidate pool, telling reporters that the Tennessee Titans were introduced to their new general manager, Ran Carthon, during December's event.

The Titans hired Carthon, previously the 49ers' director of player development, in January. Carthon, who is Black, is one of two minority GM or head coach candidates hired during this year's cycle thus far. The Houston Texans hired 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who is Black, as their new head coach on Jan. 31.

"We're gonna continue [the accelerator program]," Goodell said. "Our commitment's strong to that. But that's just one. We had a number of other programs that we've put in that I think are going to produce long-term results. Now we all want short-term results, but it's important to have it be sustainable for the future, and we believe diversity makes us stronger. It's about attracting the best talent and giving them the best opportunity to be successful. To me, that's at the core of what we do. We want the changes to be really fundamental and sound and sustainable."

There were two open GM positions -- the Cardinals hired Monti Ossenfort, who is white -- and five open head-coaching spots during the 2023 hiring cycle. The Panthers and Broncos hired two white candidates (Frank Reich and Sean Payton, respectively), while the Cardinals and Colts have yet to fill their open positions. Goodell was asked what measures can be made to the accelerator program to help coaching candidates in particular.

"One is when we did this it was in May, and we did the second accelerator in December," Goodell said. "It was difficult to get our coaches to participate in December. We didn't even ask because we know that their focus is on the season. ... I think when we have this offseason, hopefully, we can schedule better and make sure the coaches have the opportunity to participate in that."

Goodell continued: "I also think there was probably some reluctance that 'is this really going to be beneficial?' I think now when coaches and others see that it has produced results already, I think they're going to be anxious to participate, and I think that will be good for our clubs, who loved the experience. In implementing any program, you never know what the reaction is. I was overwhelmed with the reaction from our clubs. They embraced it. They thought it was terrific. The conversations were great -- I participated in many of them. It's a program that has a great deal of potential."

Regarding officiating -- which made headlines throughout the season, and most notably in the AFC Championship Game -- Goodell defended the work done by the league's refs and pushed back against any notion that there has been a drain in talent in the officiating pool.

"I think for us, when you look at officiating, I don't think it's ever been better in the league," Goodell said. "There are over 42,000 plays in a season, multiple infractions could occur on any play, take that out and extrapolate that, that's hundreds if not millions of potential fouls, and our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those. Are there mistakes in the context of that? Yes, they are not perfect, and officiating never will (be). But we've also had obviously replay and other aspects that help us address those issues to make sure they're not something that we can't correct on the field."

Goodell dismissed the sentiment the Chiefs were able to replay a third down in the fourth quarter against the Bengals in the conference title game.

"That (play) was stopped appropriately because the clock was running by an official on the field," Goodell said. "That happens frequently in our game, that's not an unusual thing to have that happen."

Goodell added: "We may not agree with every TV announcer or every officiating expert, but we think our officials are doing a great job. But we're always going to look to our competition committee and everything else we have, how we improve our officiating. But it will never be perfect. In addition, I think we all have to realize through the quality of what we see on our broadcast, you've never been able to see the kinds of things you see today, and you see it in super slow-mo, you see it where you can actually stop it. Sometimes that distorts a call, potentially, but the reality is our officials are held to an incredibly high standard, and I think they meet it. Will we try to get better? You betcha."

Last October, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to modified concussion protocols after an investigation determined that the previous protocols did not lead to the intended result with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

On Wednesday, Goodell addressed the NFL's modified policy and its recently released data that showed an increase in concussions for players during the 2022 season compared with the previous year.

"Any time we can change the protocols to make it safer for our players, we're gonna do that," Goodell said. "What we changed in October is something that we thought would give us a better opportunity to treat those conditions more conservatively. ... I think that's also why concussions went up this year because we had a broader definition, a more conservative definition. We had an increase of 17 percent of evaluations. So if you have more evaluations, you're going to have more concussions."

Goodell said the next frontier for concussion prevention will be improvements to the helmets players wear.

"Over the last few years, we've gotten our players to wear the best possible helmets and advance the technology there, so our players are safer from an equipment standpoint," Goodell said. "I think the other part of it is rules. Ultimately, you want to try to take that head out of the game. You're always going to have contacts that are not intended and that's why you need that protection. But ultimately, you want the rules to make sure that you're avoiding the techniques that can lead to those types of injuries."

One new thing that will be implemented during the 2023 NFL season will be flexible scheduling for Monday Night Football for December games. Goodell hinted that in the future, the league's schedule could include flex games headed to Thursday Night Football.

"This is the first year of our new deals which will have flexible scheduling on Monday night," Goodell said. "So we'll have flexible scheduling on Sundays and Mondays, it wouldn't at all surprise me at some point that we have it on Thursdays, at some stage. Not today, but it'll certainly be something that'll be on our horizon."

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