FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It was an awkward moment, compounded by an odd reaction from the audience.
The scene: Commissioner Roger Goodell conducted a fan forum Monday in the New York Jets‘ auditorium. He was flanked by players Matt Forte and Jamal Adams, and there were about 150 season-ticket holders in the room asking questions.
When the conversation turned to CTE and player safety, each man gave his thoughts. As a defensive player, Adams said he’s “not a big fan” of rules that protect offensive players, but that he understands the league’s emphasis on safety.
Then came the fingernails-across-the-blackboard moment.
“Literally, if I had the perfect place to die,” Adams said, “I’d die on the field.”
His comment prompted a smattering of applause from the fans in attendance, many of whom were decked out in Jets gear.
After the forum, Goodell tried to put Adams’ remark in perspective.
“I think what he was really making the point of is how much he loved the game and how passionate he is about the game,” Goodell told reporters. “It’s just something that means a great deal to him. I get the emotion of that.”
As for the fans’ reaction?
“I think fans understood the emotion of what he was saying,” Goodell said. “Which is: We love the game. I think they love the game. But I don’t think anyone took it (literally).”
Goodell defended the league’s efforts to improve player safety, adding that it hopes to improve helmets and pour more money into brain-trauma research. Forte, in his 10th season, said CTE is “definitely concerning,” but he’s encouraged by the improvements in equipment.
Adams made his “die” comment in the context of his affinity for the game.
“I can speak for a lot of guys that play the game,” he said. “We live and breathe it. This is what we’re so passionate about. Literally, if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field. And that’s not a lie. There’s so much sacrifice that we go through as a team, and just connecting as one and winning ball games. There’s nothing like playing the game of football. But again, I’m all about making the game safer.”