FLORHAM PARK — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attended a fan forum at Jets training camp on Monday. And when the recent study on brain damage in football players came up, things got a bit uncomfortable.
Several Jets fans applauded after rookie Jamal Adams said he wasn't worried about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and would prefer to die on the football field over anywhere else.
A fan brought up the question with Goodell, running back Matt Forte and Adams, the Jets' No. 6 overall pick out of LSU.
Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an updated study which found signs of CTE in 110 out of 111 former NFL players.
Goodell downplayed the study, and touted several NFL rule changes he says have made the game safer. Forte said he's concerned, but added that the game has gotten safer in his 10-year career.
And then came Adams, the Jets' first round draft pick, who said he didn't like the rule changes and made it clear: he's not worried about CTE and he'd be willing to give up his life for football.
"I'm all about making the game safer," Adams said, turning to Goodell in the next seat over and smiling. "But as a defensive player ... I'm not a big fan of it. But I get it.
"But I can speak for a lot of other guys that play the game," Adams continued. "We live and breathe it and this is what we're so passionate about. Literally, I would -- if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field."
This was all said in a room of about 200 Jets fans. And at this moment, several of those fans -- not all of them -- interrupted Adams with applause.
"And that's not a lie," Adams continued. "Like, it's so much sacrifice that we go through as a team and just connecting as one and winning ball games -- there's nothing like the playing the game of football."
Goodell met with reporters after the forum and was asked about Adams' comments and the awkward applause.
"Well, I think what he was really making a point of was how much he loves the game," Goodell said. "And how passionate he is about the game. That he loves playing it and it's just something that means a great deal to him, and I think that's -- I get the emotion of that."
As for the reaction from some of the fans after Adams stated his willingness to die on the field, Goodell said it didn't make him uncomfortable.
"I think that our fans understood the emotion of what he was saying, which is that we love the game," Goodell said. "And I think they love the game. But I don't think anyone took it as directly as that."
The NFL has faced growing criticism in recent years as studies have increasingly linked football to long-term brain damage. More and more, players must consider the risk to their bodies and minds that playing football poses.
Jets coach Todd Bowles, who played eight seasons in the NFL from 1986 to 1993 said over the weekend that he isn't concerned about his long-term health despite the latest study.
"I’m healthy in my head, I think," Bowles said, adding a joke. "Maybe I’m not healthy because I’m coaching football. I hope it doesn’t become a problem."
Bowles said he understands why some players are concerned, and would perhaps even consider retiring early because of the risk that football poses. But Bowles pointed out that players today have a completely different mindset than he had in his playing day.
"Obviously back then, it was a great thing to knock somebody out," Bowles said. "That’s how you grew up. That’s how a lot of guys got in the Hall of Fame. Now, the game is changing and player’s safety with medical being more advanced than it was back when I played, you see a lot more things coming up from an injury standpoint so I understand the concern."
In his brief meeting with the media, Goodell talked about the culture change that Bowles alluded to. Players are now more likely to admit they're hurt and take a more active role in their safety.
Forte said during the forum that he now wears a safer helmet after the Jets equipment staff advised him which ones were the best.
"I think all of that is part of a culture change to say, 'It's great to be a hard-nosed player, but you play within the rules, and you also play as safely as possible,'" Goodell said. "I think that's something that has actually changed the way our game is being played."