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Carolina Panthers

Goodell visits fans at training camp


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell traveled to Carolina Panthers training camp Wednesday at Wofford College with the intent of thanking fans for their patience and thanking Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson for his perseverance during the league's recent labor struggles.

But in the middle of the fan forum, Goodell and Richardson received a thank you of their own.

"On behalf of football fans, NFL fans, thank you for getting this deal done in time for the season to begin," Ed Geraghty of Simpsonville, S.C. said. "Sundays are not Sundays without church first and the NFL second."

Football fans everywhere are thrilled to be back to football, and the large contingent that showed up prior to the Panthers' practice Wednesday evening got to hear from two of the principal players in achieving labor peace. During Goodell's first appearance at an NFL training camp this season and his first-ever appearance at Panthers camp, he spoke of Richardson's crucial role in the process.

"In a simple word, I'd say 'leadership,'" Goodell said of Richardson, who served as co-chair of the NFL's management council executive committee. "He has such tremendous respect among the 31 other owners, and he has the respect of the players.

"He helped us manage a process that isn't always simple. You have to keep 32 clubs informed and keep them united, and he did that. He worked tirelessly to do that."


A fan asked Goodell to identify the most critical moment in the negotiation process, and he pointed to two months ago when he and Richardson were one of just 12 people in the negotiating room.

"When you get into a situation where you have a labor dispute, the immediate reaction is to get entrenched in your position and not listen. I think Mr. Richardson would agree that the most critical moment in negotiations was when we had the principals talk to one another," Goodell said. "We threw all the lawyers and negotiators out - everybody but five owners, myself, DeMaurice Smith (executive director of the NFL Players' Association) and five players. We had three days of discussions in Chicago, and we started it off with an informal dinner.

"We talked about each other and understood one another and understood what we were all about, and then the next day we started with business meetings. I would say in two days we made more progress than we had made in probably the six months before that."

Now that football is back, fans want to know what to expect going forward. Several questions asked of Goodell during the 45-minute question-and-answer session revolved around whether the new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) means that things like an 18-game regular season schedule or expansion into different markets won't be a possibility for another 10 years.

Goodell said both could be considered before the CBA expires, with the 18-game schedule still a possibility if done "the right way," and the possibility of Los Angeles getting an NFL team and eventually a foreign city joining the league on the table as well.

The questions that got the biggest response, however, came from fans about half the age of the 17-year-old Panthers franchise. A young girl asked the commissioner if he thought Cam Newton is "going to be a great player for the Carolina Panthers?"

"That's a very good question," Goodell said. "One thing about being commissioner is that you're not a scout. I think he's a great young man. He's had success everywhere he's been, and I have a lot of faith in the people here at Carolina that they know how to choose players."

Also, a young boy asked how difficult it is to run the NFL.

"That's a very good question," Goodell said. "For the last six months, I'll tell you it was very difficult."

Difficult yes, but also quite rewarding now that the NFL is back in business.

"It's been a trying offseason, but we are grateful for your support," Goodell told the crowd. "We believe that what we've been able to accomplish this offseason with a 10-year bargaining agreement will allow us to insure great football for you. We believe we've protected the game of football this offseason, and that we're going to make it better for you as fans and for the people who play the game."


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