MINNEAPOLIS — A rise in injuries during Thursday night games in 2017 was so small that it is “not even statistically significant,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday.
Goodell’s comments, made during his annual Super Bowl press conference, came as the league announced a five-year deal to continue broadcasting its Thursday night package. Fox Sports will pay the league an average of $660 million annually to broadcast 11 games per season, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell.
League data released last week showed that NFL players suffered an average of 6.9 injuries per Thursday night game in 2017, compared to 6.3 in games played on other days. It was the highest average of Thursday night injuries since the league began releasing the data in 2014 and the first time that the Thursday night rate was higher than those for Saturday, Sunday and Monday games.
Over the past four years combined, the average rate for Thursday night injuries was 5.7 injuries per game and 6.7 for all other days.
“Out of those [four years],” Goodell said, “only this year slowed a slight uptick, which was not even statistically significant. If you take the [full] period, the injury rate is low. So we do not think that is something we need to overreact to.”
Players have long complained the quick turnarounds for Thursday games are difficult and run counter to the league’s commitment to the health and safety of its players. The league’s response has pointed toward data that showed lower injury rates on Thursday night. This flip in this season’s numbers did not change the league’s outlook, however. Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said last week that “assessing the overall health and safety impact of the game is a lot more complex than just a simple injury rate.”
Sills added: “It would be somewhat naïve and superficial of us to say that because the number went up or down that Thursday night is safer or more dangerous.”
Goodell said he has spoken to NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith about the issue but has found a “clearly mixed” reaction from players.
“Obviously, most players don’t like the short week,” Goodell said, “but they sure do love the 10 days that come after it.”
Goodell spoke on several other issues during 35 minutes of questions and answers with reporters:
He reiterated that he wants to change the league’s catch rule in time for the 2018 season, using a thorough process that starts from “scratch.” He said he couldn’t guarantee that the new rule would eliminate controversy, but he wants to address instances where passes are ruled incomplete when a receiver does not maintain control throughout the process of going to the ground. “We have some very good ideas that we’re going to submit to the competition committee,” Goodell said, declining to address specifics.
He said the league has hired former SEC chairwoman Mary Jo White to investigation accusations of workplace misconduct by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. White also worked with the NFL on investigating the New Orleans Saints‘ Bountygate scandal.
Goodell has not spoken with President Trump about players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. He added that he doesn’t know whether to change the league’s pregame script next season to keep players in the locker room until after the anthem is played.