INGLEWOOD – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stepped away from the stage and toward Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
“Not one question about COVID,” he said Wednesday with SoFi Stadium, the home of Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI, as his multi-billion-dollar backdrop.
It was one of the few things that went Goodell’s way on a day when he was under constant heat that had nothing to do with the 84-degree February afternoon.
He faced a steady barrage of questions about the NFL’s lack of diversity – especially among coaches – and other controversies that have dominated the discussion in the build-up to the game between the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.
For years, Goodell’s Super Bowl news conferences featured a potential return to Los Angeles as a primary topic. This one could have been celebratory in nature since it was the first of his tenure actually in the Los Angeles area.
Instead, Goodell answered criticisms that hardly are new but were elevated when former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the league and its teams Feb. 1. He bemoaned that the league hasn’t made any gains in the hiring of coaches of color – two were fired this cycle and two were hired (both after Flores sued) – and insisted the NFL would examine all its practices to try to improve.
“If I had the answer right now, I’d give it to you,” Goodell said. “I’d implement it.
“I think we have to continue to look and find and step back and say, ‘We’re not doing a good enough job here.’”
Legal experts have debated the merits and viability of Flores’ lawsuit, and some have said he has a high bar to clear to win in court.
Goodell tried to distance himself from the legal fight, however, and said he wanted to focus on the message Flores delivered about his experiences and those of other Black coaches.
“To me, it’s more important for us to listen to Coach (Flores), understand what he and other coaches are going through, what our clubs are going through, also re-evaluate everything we’re doing,” Goodell said, not all that far from the Coliseum, where Art Shell served as the league’s first Black coach with the Raiders starting in 1989.
Some of the NFL’s fiercest critics on race issues point to the lack of a Black team owner in a league where approximately 70 percent of the players are Black. That could change with the sale of the Denver Broncos. Former comedian-turned-entertainment mogul Byron Allen has said he will put together a bid to buy the team.
Goodell said he has spoken to Allen about his pursuit as well as other potential buyers.
“He’s not the only person who is interested in buying an NFL team who is Black,” Goodell said.
Other topics Goodell dealt with included:
New allegations of sexual misconduct among executives of the team recently renamed the Washington Commanders;
Flores’ claim in his lawsuit that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000 for every game he lost in the 2019 season in order to improve the team’s draft position;
The most recent arrest of a player in Las Vegas, though this one was a visiting participant in the league’s Pro Bowl, not a member of the Raiders.
“Bad decisions also happen in other markets,” Goodell said.
While most of his news conference covered areas that might have tempted Goodell to hop on one of the several planes that passed SoFi Stadium – especially with the airline known for its “Wanna get away?” campaign – he got a brief opportunity to reflect on all it took for the Super Bowl to land back in the L.A. area.
Sunday’s Super Bowl will be the first in the region since 1993, a gap that seemed impossible given that seven of the first 27 — including the debut in 1967 — were either at the Coliseum or Rose Bowl.
But once the Rams left for St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland following the 1994 season, the NFL made no plans to hold its championship here without a local team and, just as important, a first-class venue.
“We needed to have a state-of-the-art stadium that gave us the wow factor,” Goodell said.
He said he expects SoFi Stadium will become a regular part of the Super Bowl rotation and noted that the next available one to be awarded will be the 60th.
“I’d be hard-pressed to think that they’re not going to be at the top of everybody’s list every opportunity we can,” Goodell said.