Phoenix — After a year in which his integrity came into question, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent much of his 45-minute State of the League address Friday defending himself and the league.
Goodell took questions about the deflated ball issue, domestic violence, international growth in London and Mexico, possible relocation to Los Angeles, and Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch skirting his media obligations. One reporter also asked if there was a situation that would result in Goodell stepping down from his post, while another asked about him considering taking a paycut.
From start to finish, Goodell harped on the progress made in a season filled with questionable activity from his office, from the handling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson legal matters to the conflict of interest in the league's investigations.
"It has been a tough year," Goodell said. "It's been a tough year on me personally. It's been a year of humility and learning. We obviously, as an organization, have gone through adversity, but more importantly, it's been adversity for me and that is something where we take that seriously. It's an opportunity for us to get better, it's an opportunity for our whole organization to get better, so we've all done a lot of soul searching, starting with yours truly, and we have taken action."
Goodell also boasted of improved player safety, saying concussions were down from 173 in 2012 to 111 in 2013. He also said hits on defenseless players were down 68 percent and said the league plans to hire a chief medical officer.
Although Goodell mentioned his humility, it didn't show in his response to a question about the conflict of interest in the investigation into Rice's domestic assault against his now wife, nor in his response to the Patriots allegedly deflating the footballs used in their AFC Championship win over the Colts. Former FBI director Robert Mueller investigated the Rice issue even though his law firm, WilmerHale, had a partnership with the league. Attorney Ted Wells is leading the "deflate-gate" investigation, and he also received money from the league in the past.
Goodell joked that perhaps the reporter could pay the two investigators because someone must.
"I think we have had people that have uncompromising integrity," he said. "These are professionals that bring in outside expertise, and their conclusions are drawn only by the evidence, only by the attempt to try and identify that truth."
In his opening statement, Goodell addressed the deflated ball accusations.
"Ted Wells and our staff have been hard at work, conducting a thorough and objective investigation," he said. "As you would expect, we take seriously anything that impacts the integrity of the game. We are focusing principally on two questions: Why were some footballs used in the game that were not in compliance with the rules, and was this the result of deliberate action? I want to emphasize, we have made no judgment on these points."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he expected an apology from league officials if the investigation finds no wrongdoing. Goodell explained that investigating such matters is his job, and said the potential penalties include monetary penalties, draft choices or suspensions.
"Whether a competitive advantage was actually gained or not is secondary in my mind to whether or not rules were violated," he said.
On Lynch, Goodell said league officials would not determine whether to fine him for his petulant interactions with the media or unsanctioned attire until after the Super Bowl. NFL officials reportedly threatened to fine Lynch $500,000 if he didn't attend Media Day — he did, for about 5 minutes, saying only that he was there to avoid a fine.
"I've been very clear that when you're in the NFL, you have an obligation, an obligation to the fans," Goodell said. "It is part of your job, and there are things that we all have to do at our jobs that we may not necessarily want to do. … Fans are curious, fans want to know. The media would like to make that story clear to our fans."