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CNN NEWSROOM

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Holds Press Conference

Aired September 19, 2014 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we are -- and I should -- if you just are just joining us now at the top of the hour, we're anticipating Roger Goodell any moment to come out, make a statement, also take questions. It's the first time we will have heard from him in some nine days.

And it's been a dramatic nine days, indeed.

Deuce McAllister, former New Orleans Saints running back, is also joining us for our coverage this afternoon. And, Deuce, I may have to jump in here if we see Roger Goodell. That's the only reason I would be interrupting you.

I'm curious to see your thoughts. You have experience with the New Orleans Saints. Looks like they're giving a time warning to our viewers. We will obviously bring you Roger Goodell's comments as soon as possible.

Deuce, what do you make of the way Roger Goodell has handled things thus far?

DEUCE MCALLISTER, FORMER NFL PLAYER: It's been interesting, to say the least. He's fumbled a lot as far as the overall transparency. That's really what people are looking for.

The information that he knew, when did he know it and how did he disperse it and was he being truthful? You have a lot of people calling for his job. But like Rachel and the other panelists have said, I don't really see that happening. And that's really because of the growth since he's took over the league of how much the league has grown and how popular it is.

I think that there will be a hard line taken. But you still have to look. Every case is going to be different. You can say, hey, look, if you are arrested for domestic violence, you're going to be suspended until this case is resolved, but my question is -- becomes, what happens when it's made up, it's just an allegation? Are you going still to suspend this player for a situation like that?

I mean, it's still a tricky situation. But obviously something has to be done and it has to be set in stone.

COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, what about that? Can somebody be suspended if an allegation has simply been made? Does it have to be a conviction?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely it can be just an allegation.

Think about what you can get suspended for in the NFL. You can get suspended in a second for gambling on football games. It's perfectly legal to gamble on football games, at least in several states, but obviously someone who bet on football while being a member of the team would be suspended.

Think about steroids. Steroids are sometimes legal and sometimes not. But certainly the NFL suspends people for steroids. Playing in the NFL is a public job with public responsibilities. And the NFL has always said that it is not just convicted felons who are barred from playing. It's people who are outside the rules as we establish them.

And the problem, as we have all been saying, is that the rules of who can play and who can't play are very unclear and changing and we will see if the commissioner has a clearer version of what those rules are today.

COOPER: Katie Ray-Jones is also joining us, president and CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Katie, have you noticed an uptick in people calling the hot line since all these allegations and these stories have been so talked about over the last two weeks or so?

KATIE RAY-JONES, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE: Absolutely.

We were overwhelmed last week. We saw an 84 percent increase in our call volume, as well as our volume on our online chat services, from women and men who were calling for services and information regarding domestic violence. We were absolutely overwhelmed and unable to answer 50 percent of the calls from people who were trying to reach out to us.

COOPER: And this is a conversation clearly which you believe needs to be had. It's interesting how -- I mean, Sunny Hostin pointed out a couple -- a week or so ago, Ray Rice got into a diversion program in New Jersey. You can't get into a diversion program if you abuse an animal.

Yet, he was able to get into a diversion program after knocking his then girlfriend unconscious. Does the law, does this society, do we understand domestic violence well enough?

RAY-JONES: We still have a lot of work to do to help people understand the complexities of domestic violence. I think that's what we're seeing play out in the public eye right now, how complex it is.

Hearing that there was a conversation with Janay Rice sitting next to her abuser, which we wouldn't typically do in any other type of criminal situation. It's quite appalling. The NFL is trying to get in front of the game at this point to hear what to do and the right steps, because it's very complex. It's hard when you have two different stories, you are hearing different information, to kind of figure out what really, really happened. So it is complex and we really are taking the opportunity and we're

hearing a lot from survivors and victims who are talking about their feelings and why it's so difficult to leave and it's creating a national conversation.

COOPER: Katie, what do you want to hear from the NFL today?

RAY-JONES: I would really like to hear that there's going to be a zero tolerance for domestic violence. This is a critical issue that in fact impacts one in four women, one in seven men. The NFL is positioned in a way to really take a stand and say that this is not OK.

COOPER: L.Z. Granderson, CNN commentator and senior writer with ESPN, is also joining us.

L.Z., as much criticism as the NFL has gotten, they are actually one of the few major franchises in sports leagues which actually has a policy on the books, albeit it's a new policy. There's a lot of leagues that don't have any policy regarding domestic violence.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's a lot of leagues that don't have policies. There's a lot of businesses that do not have policies. If you check with the Department of Labor, only 12 percent of companies in the U.S. actually have policies on the books that address domestic violence.

It's a conversation that I hope doesn't end with this press conference because it is a cultural conversation we need to be having. There is a federal judge in Alabama who has been accused. No, he's been convicted of domestic violence and he's still eligible to be on the bench.

We have so many tentacles to this story that it would be a disservice to this conversation if we limited it to whether or not Roger Goodell stays or goes or what happens to players like Ray Rice.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, you have covered that case of that judge who again, as L.Z. said, has the capabilities now of still being on the bench.

TOOBIN: It's really an astonishing story. Mark Fuller, he's a judge in Alabama, federal judge, serving a lifetime appointment, was arrested for domestic violence in Atlanta, has agreed to participate in a diversion program like Ray Rice, which is frankly a Mickey Mouse punishment.

And now the question is what happens to his judicial career? The two senators from Alabama have called for him to step down. The congresswoman there has raised the possibility of his being impeached. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals have temporarily taken his cases away, but he remains a judge on full salary. There is the possibility of his returning to the bench.

And here's a guy who has a domestic violence case pending against him. I mean, it's really just an astonishing, astonishing story, and it's just out there unresolved.

COOPER: Danny Cevallos, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, is also joining us here for our coverage.

Again, just want to bring you up to speed. We're waiting for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to appear at a press conference in New York. He's set to make a statement about the abuse scandals, the first time we're hearing from him in more than a week. He gave an interview to "CBS This Morning." That's the last time we have heard from him publicly, at least on camera.

This will be an opportunity for reporters to also ask questions of Roger Goodell.

Danny Cevallos, it does surprise I think a lot of people when you start to look at this and realize, well, the NFL now has this policy, but it does seem to not exactly be transparent and to not be kind of simple across the board. Every team seems to view this policy differently.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's fascinating to watch.

Now that we demand the NFL to act as this quasi-judicial body, whereas a few years ago it was just guys on Sunday throwing themselves at each other, as the NFL struggles to become this investigatory body, I have to think that judges and law enforcement, police, prosecutors, I think off the record they would say, well, yes, we have been struggling with domestic abuse as a separate category for millennia.

It's a problem. It's a unique kind of crime that is difficult to prosecute. And we have had to enact specific laws to assist prosecutors in prosecuting domestic violence, because it's so often so hidden and so underneath the surface and there's so many complexities involved.

It's no surprise as we demand the NFL have some policy in place, it's not something they will able to do very quickly and overnight. And how does a league provide some form of due process when it's not obligated to provide any due process whatsoever to its players? That ultimately may make their job easier than it would be for the criminal justice system.

COOPER: Explain what you mean by that.

CEVALLOS: Well, the NFL, as Jeff was talking about earlier, doesn't have to provide due process to players. If they decide that what you're doing conflicts with their spirit, their mission, even if it's legal, like sports gambling, too bad, so sad, you're out.

And there really isn't -- there is some due process, some contractual due process, but there's no Constitution in the world of the NFL. There's no state action. So in a way, the NFL has its hands less tied than, say, the criminal justice system when it is now forced or trying to formulate these policies on how to deal with things like domestic violence. Ultimately, for the most part, as Jeff said, if they do something

that's inconsistent with the league's mission, then for the most part they can dismiss you.

COOPER: And, Sean Gregory, to Danny's point, I mean, Roger Goodell has in the past in other instances not related to domestic violence been seen as having a strong hand on the tiller, and what he says goes. Does it surprise you to see how he's handled these issues?

SEAN GREGORY, "TIME": Yes, definitely.

And the problem is Roger Goodell decided and the NFL decided to make Roger Goodell judge and jury. When he took over in 2007, there was a spate of arrests and he instituted this personal conduct policy. And so it was a decision by them, so they got themselves in these waters, so then as we have been talking about, you have to be careful when you do that.

COOPER: There was a scandal with the New Orleans Saints about -- I don't even remember what it was. Was it...

GREGORY: The bounties.

COOPER: The Bountygate, right, exactly.

And he essentially -- he took a very tough line and telling players and telling everyone, well, lack of knowledge of it, that's not an excuse. There's a lot of people that now say -- you know, are now pointing the same finger at him.

GREGORY: Yes, exactly. He told Sean Payton, the coach of the Saints, you should have known about Bountygate.

Well, Roger Goodell, should you have known about this tape and everything else? That's another great question for him today.

COOPER: Do you see any possibility of Roger Goodell actually stepping down? Because in the NFL, isn't the bottom line how much money is being made? And Roger Goodell has made an awful lot of money for an awful lot of team owners.

GREGORY: Let's see if sponsors start pulling out. Sponsors have said a lot so far and issued statements and issued kind of tsk-tsks. Once the money starts pulling out, the owners have a problem. If it takes a change of leadership to get that money back, we will see more momentum in that direction.

COOPER: Speaking of Bountygate, Deuce McAllister, former New Orleans Saints running back, is with us.

Deuce, some of the Saints -- current players on the Saints spoke out saying -- you know, essentially saying Roger Goodell should be in the line of fire just like anybody else.

MCALLISTER: Yes, particularly when you look at how the reaction and how hard he came down on the organization, virtually suspending coach Payton for a year, suspending Mickey Loomis, and it left the team in an uneasy position.

When you think about an organization, and they won't come out and publicly say it, but obviously the players feel a certain way. They think that the NFL, particularly Roger Goodell, could have done a lot more in a lot of these situations.

COOPER: Sunny Hostin, do you believe that what is happening with the NFL is any more than what is happening in society at large? Or do you think the incidents are about on par with general population?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think if you look at statistics, quite frankly and unfortunately, there are more cases of domestic violence in our population.

But it's very important to note that it's happening in the NFL and these are men that are held up as role models. They hold a special place in our society. Children look up to them. They have fans. They make a lot of money. I think if you're going to make an example, if you're going to say domestic violence will not be tolerated anywhere, there's zero tolerance, the NFL is the perfect place to send that message.

Playing football is a privilege. It's not a right. So I think that is why we hear the sponsors saying they're not handling this appropriately. That's why women are saying we are important too. You have to take this very, very hard line and now is the time to send that message.

COOPER: Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of National Domestic Violence Hotline, you agree with that. You see the numbers. The general population, the incidents of domestic violence, as a percentage basis, is actually greater than what we're seeing play out in the NFL.

RAY-JONES: Absolutely. And we see approximately -- before this incident we were receiving 700 calls a day to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This is an issue that is impacting women and men across the country at a very high rate.

It's not unique to the NFL as an employer, your neighbors, the people you're sitting next to in church, in your community all the time.

COOPER: We have to take a short break. We will be back in just about 90 seconds. Obviously, we will bring you the press conference as it happens live. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Roger Goodell is coming to the podium. Let's listen in.

ROGER GOODELL, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE COMMISSIONER: OK. Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming today.

I would like to make a few points. And then, of course, I will be happy to take your questions.

At our best, the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference. Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me.

I said this before back, on August 28, and I say it again now. I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter. And I'm sorry for that. I got it wrong on a number of levels, from the process that I led, to the decision that I reached.

But now I will get it right and do whatever is necessary to accomplish that.

First, I don't expect anyone just to take my word. Last week, I asked former FBI Director Robert Mueller to conduct an independent investigation to answer the questions raised about our process in reviewing Ray Rice's conduct. I pledged that Director Mueller will have full cooperation and access. We all look forward to his report and findings.

I promise you that any shortcomings he finds in how we dealt with the situation will lead to swift action. The same mistakes can never be repeated. We will do whatever it is necessary to ensure that we are thorough in our review process and that our conclusions are reliable. We will get our house in order first.

Second, and most importantly, these incidents demonstrate that we can use the NFL to help create change, not only in our league, but in society, with respect to domestic violence and sexual assault. We are taking a number of steps.

On August 28, I said that the entire NFL would receive comprehensive information and resources and support systems for victims on domestic violence and sexual assault. We will reexamine, enhance, and improve all of our current programs. And then we will do more.

Earlier today, each NFL club and all our league office locations received information about advocacy and support organizations in their communities. In addition, our teams and league staff, everyone will participate in education sessions starting in the next month, followed by training programs.

These programs are being developed by a top group of experts. Some of them were announced earlier in the week. We will continue to identify and add expertise to our team. And we will ask the NFL Players Association to help us develop and deliver these programs in the most effective way.

Third, we recognize that domestic violence and sexual assault exists everywhere, in every community, economic class, racial and ethnic group. It affects all of us. These are problems we are committed to addressing. But we cannot solve them by ourselves.

Law enforcement, the criminal justice system, social service organizations and families are the cornerstones to addressing this problem. For our part, we can add, and we will do more.

To begin, we entered -- we have entered into long-term partnership with two leading national organizations, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The Hotline received an 84 percent increase in their call volume just last week.

They did not have the resources to reach even half of those calls. They need our help. And we are providing it.

Fourth, we strongly, strongly condemn and will punish behavior that is totally unacceptable. Domestic violence, including child abuse, sexual assault, irresponsible ownership or handling of firearms, the illegal use of alcohol or drugs, these activities must be condemned and stopped through education and discipline.

Our standards and the consequences of falling short must be clear, consistent, and current. They must be implemented through procedures that are fair and transparent.

This is a central issue today. I'm here now because our rules, policies and procedures on personal conduct failed to ensure that this high standard is met. But I want to make it clear. These are very complex issues. Our country has a legal system that everyone needs to respect.

When there is evidence of misconduct by anyone in the NFL, we need to carefully consider when to act and on what evidence. Everyone deserves a fair process. You know I feel passionately that working in the NFL in any capacity is a privilege, something we must earn every day and must never take for granted.

The vast majority of players, coaches, owners and employees in the NFL stand tall, not only for their role in the game, but for what they do in their communities. To get all this right, we will bring together our players and their union representatives, coaches, owners, and outside experts who can help us set the right standards and identify the right procedures.

I have discussed these challenges with the Players Association executive director, DeMaurice Smith. He shares my view that domestic violence and sexual assault have no place in the NFL. He and I will meet next week to bring together experts to help us establish and live up to the standards that our fans deserve and that we set for ourselves.

I will be asking these experts to examine all current NFL policies related to employee and player conduct and discipline. They will address how to balance due process rights for those accused with the need to hold our personnel to the highest standards. They should also consider the current system for determining violations, including my role in the process.

There will be changes to our personal conduct policy. I know this because we will make it happen. Nothing is off the table. Let me say it again. We will implement new conduct policies. They will have a set of clear and transparent rules for league and club personnel, owners and players.

My goal is to complete this by the Super Bowl. Football and the NFL have always changed and improved. We drive changes in the game through our Competition Committee. It reviews and updates the rules that govern the game on the field. Through this process of evaluation and reform, we keep the game competitive, entertaining, fair and, most importantly, do everything we can to protect our players on the field from injury. We go to enormous lengths to make sure players, coaches, officials, fans, our broadcast partners, fully understand our playing rules and how they are enforced.

That must now be our model when it comes to personal conduct. So, like the competition committee and other league committees, I'm establishing a conduct committee to review these new rules in the months and years to come and ensure that we are always living with the best practices.

There is no reason we cannot be as transparent and as effective on these issues as we are with the game on the field. I believe in accountability. I understand the challenges before me. And I will be held accountable for meeting them.

Every day, so many of our players, coaches and staffs are doing tremendous things in their communities. I couldn't be more proud of how they are using the opportunity to help make a positive difference. Today, I ask everyone that is part of the NFL to join me in making positive and significant changes going forward.

I will take your questions.

Yes, Peter.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS: Peter Alexander from NBC News.

GOODELL: Yes.

ALEXANDER: Mr. Goodell, appreciate your time.

GOODELL: Sure.

ALEXANDER: If any of these victims had been someone you love, would you be satisfied with the way the league has handled this crisis, and what would you say to them?

GOODELL: I'm not satisfied with the way we handled it from the get- go.

As I told you, and this statement indicates, I made a mistake. I'm not satisfied with the process that we went through. I'm not satisfied with the conclusions. And that's why we came out last month, on August 28, and we said we're going to make changes to our policies. We made changes to our discipline. We acknowledged the mistake, my mistake. And we said, we're going to do better going forward.

We have a set of very complex issues that we have to deal with. That's no excuse. What we need to do is go and get some experts to help us: How do we do this better? How do we restructure our personal conduct policy and expect the kind of behaviors we expect, and to make sure that we educate, we train, we do everything possible to hit that mark for all of us. And when we don't, there will have to be consequences for that. So I'm not satisfied with what we did. I let myself down. I let everybody else down. And, for that, I'm sorry, as I mentioned earlier. But that's what we're going to correct. And that's what we're going to fix.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rachel Nichols.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Roger, you have had pretty extreme unilateral power in deciding discipline.

But, as you have said a few times, you have gotten it wrong in a few cases. And that tends to happen when there's no checks and balances. How willing are you to give up some of that power? And do you think that that would that be the right thing for you to do?

GOODELL: Well, Rachel, as I said in my statement, everything is on the table. We are going to make sure that we look at every aspect of the process of how we gather information to make a decision, how we make that decision, and then the appeals process.

And all of that is on the table, and all of that is important information that we want outside experts to give us some perspective on, and see if there's a better way to do it. We believe there is. And we believe we need it. We can't continue to operate like this.

NICHOLS: Also, you have mentioned on TV last week that you guys checked and tried to get the Ray Rice video and any information. The Atlantic City prosecutor's office in an open records check says they don't have electronic communication from the NFL asking for those kinds of documentation or the video.

Can you give us sort of the trail of how you guys did that investigation, so that people can know really what you put into it?

GOODELL: Well, certainly.

Our security department works with law enforcement. They are fully cooperative. We gather almost entirely all of our information through law enforcement.

And that's something else we're going to look at, Rachel. That's something is -- is that the right process? Should all of our information be gathered simply through law enforcement? We understand and respect what they go through and what -- the job they have to do. And there are certain restrictions that they may be under. So...

NICHOLS: But they're saying they don't have a record of you guys asking (OFF-MIKE)

GOODELL: Oh, we asked for it on several occasions, according to our security department. We went through it.