East: Forget about bountygate; Goodell has bigger worries

NEW ORLEANS — Many of the locals around here have been preoccupied with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the penalties he imposed on the New Orleans Saints organization for its pay-for-performance program, a scandal better known as “bountygate.”

But Goodell is preoccupied by a host of bigger issues that affect his entire league — not just 1/32nd of it. All of that takes center stage Friday when he holds his annual state-of-the-NFL news conference, traditionally the most serious-minded element of Super Bowl week.

Goodell will mention what a great week it has been in New Orleans and how the NFL and the Super Bowl are thriving.

But the news conference won’t be that simple or upbeat.

Approximately 200 lawsuits involving more than 4,000 former NFL players have been consolidated and are working their way through the court system as more is learned about the role football plays in head trauma and how culpable the league might be in a series of tragedies involving former players.

President Barack Obama weighed in a few days ago by saying he thinks football may have to change in order to “reduce the violence.”

Goodell has created a sidebar by suggesting the NFL might expand the number of regular-season and postseason games. More real games — even with fewer preseason matchups — means more collisions and more trauma. Besides, the boredom induced by the wild-card playoff round this year is Exhibit A that there’s no need for more playoff teams.

Another hot topic: The NFL has said it is considering amending the “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams looking to hire a new head coach to interview at least one minority candidate. But eight teams have changed coaches since the end of the regular season, and none hired a minority. A rule designed to trigger more diversity in hirings seems to have created more token interviews instead.

The tragic shooting death of Kasandra Perkins by her boyfriend, Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, and Belcher’s subsequent suicide late in the season was a reminder of the inordinate number of NFL players — and professional athletes in general — who own handguns.

That topic didn’t have a chance to fade before the horrific mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., thrust gun control to the front burner of political issues.

Now comes the possibility that deer antler spray can provide the benefits of performance-enhancing drugs without being detected at a time when the NFL and players association are lagging on HGH testing, which was called for in the new collective bargaining agreement.

And, as Goodell speaks amid the pleasant, moderate New Orleans weather, a bold NFL experiment looms 12 months from now. That’s when Super Bowl XLVIII will become the first Super Bowl to be held in an outdoor stadium in a cold-weather city as New York/New Jersey debuts as host.

So for those who haven’t gotten — or accepted — the word, bountygate is old news.

Goodell has bigger stuff to deal with.