|Goodell, union to meet on workplace environment|
|Tuesday, March 25, 2014 12:00 AM|
ORLANDO, Fla. — Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL will meet on April 8 with the players union to discuss improving the workplace environment.
In the wake of the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, league representatives have met with some 40 players in the last three months, as well as with the Dolphins and outside organizations, Goodell said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. The league is trying to get "as much input as possible. It's more about people understanding the importance of a proper workplace."
Goodell added the focus is on medical evaluations of the players involved, including tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the Dolphins in the middle of last season, saying he was harassed by guard Richie Incognito. Martin was traded to the 49ers earlier this month.
An NFL investigation determined Incognito and two other Miami Dolphins offensive linemen engaged in persistent harassment of Martin. Incognito was then suspended and missed the final eight games last season and he became a free agent when his contract with the Dolphins expired.
On Monday, Incognito made a peace offering to Martin via Twitter. Incognito posted: "Call me on my cell phone. Love you brother. (Stuff) got crazy but we held it together," with the hash tags of CALLME and FAMILY.
And in another tweet to Martin: "No hard feelings. Let's just move on :)"
Goodell noted that improving the workplace environment involves "a culture change." He did not address what discipline any of the players face from the league for the bullying.
"What we need to do is make sure we have a workplace we are all proud of. This will be an important meeting with the players," Goodell said.
The NFLPA did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Goodell also addressed the absence of Colts' owner Jim Irsay, who has entered a treatment facility after police found multiple prescription drugs in his vehicle during a traffic stop earlier this month. The 54-year-old Irsay faces preliminary charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance.
"He is seeking help and he's done that voluntarily," Goodell said. "To my knowledge, there's been no formal charges at this point. Obviously any policies or laws that are broken, whether they are (by) commissioner, player or coach, those are subject to discipline."
Irsay is being represented at the meetings by his daughter, Carlie. And Indianapolis' suggestion that teams be allowed to open or close the stadium roof at halftime to enhance the fan experience has been tabled.
League owners will address a myriad of potential rules changes and bylaws adjustments this week but only approved one item Monday: a 1-year extension of the Raiders' stadium lease in Oakland. Earlier in the day, Raiders' owner Mark Davis reiterated, "We're trying to get something done in Oakland" for a new home.
Instant replay, as it usually does, has garnered lots of attention, with the league considering having director of officials Dean Blandino and others consult with referees on replays. Blandino believes such a process could speed up video reviews as well as ensure the calls are correct.
"The referee will be the ultimate authority; we'll consult and come to a consensus," Blandino said of the proposal, something the NHL does on a smaller scale to great effect, although the final call in hockey comes from the league office. "Our system is more inclusive as to what we look at."
Under the proposal, observers at the central officiating site could begin discussing the play even as the referee is consulting with the coach making a challenge.
"Then we could say to the referee, 'We've got two shots we want you to see'," said Rich McKay, president of the Falcons and co-chairman of the influential competition committee. "Dean sold us and we think he's got something there."
NFL gives $45 million youth football grant: The NFL Foundation is giving USA Football a 5-year, $45 million grant to expand the already burgeoning Heads Up Football program that teaches safe tackling to youngsters.
Foundation Chair Charlotte Jones Anderson announced the grant Monday at the league's owners meetings after the NFL saw the early success of the program. Heads Up Football had nearly 2,800 youth football organizations teaching it during its first year, more than five times early projections.
Heads Up Football is designed to "take the head out of tackling" and employs master trainers who teach it to coaches throughout the nation. Those coaches in turn instruct youth football players — about 600,000 in 2013.
Funds also will be used to increase NFL flag football league for boys and girls ages 5-17.
"There is a need for information and education," Anderson said. "And we can really have a chance to do something very significant here by having a loud voice and a large presence and developing a great program to make a difference in youth sports safety.
"It is about showing people there is a correct way to play sports, so your children will be safe and will benefit. You can't replace what children learn from teamwork, respecting coaches, taking direction, being able to be part of a team and learning to deal with success and failure. You can't learn that in the classroom."
USA Football, the sport's national governing body, developed Heads Up Football in an effort to unite a fragmented sport on the youth level through a coaching technique based on safety. The NFL helped fund the launch.
The significant infusion of money will allow USA Football to increase its stable of master trainers of Heads Up Football from about 30 to nearly 100. It also will help as the organization rolls out a similar program for high schools. About 15,000 high schools play the sport, encompassing 1.12 million athletes.
"Any time there is more investment in player-safety course training, it's beneficial," said Scott Hallenbeck, USA Football's executive director. "What is exciting is one of the key things we focus on is consistency of technique and terminology, which is a pretty important step toward a safer game. If a kid is taught consistently from 10 years old up to high school, that is tremendously important and a dramatic improvement in how football is taught."
Hallenbeck explained that in addition to the NFL, his group works closely with the NCAA and major college conferences.
"For them to see all of these different stakeholders involved makes them want to be participating," he added. "It gives everyone from commissioners to coaches a real sense of legitimacy when they have decided to do something other than the norm."