ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says teams aren't blackballing Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem last year.
"No, teams make decisions (based) on what's in the best interest of their team ... and they make those decisions individually," Goodell said Thursday following his appearance at a forum with about 200 fans at the Denver Broncos' indoor practice facility.
Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the 49ers on March 3, has drawn interest from Seattle and Baltimore but remains unemployed a year after throwing for 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 11 games. Several teams have signed lesser backups without giving Kaepernick a call.
Goodell demurred when asked if he thought Kaepernick should be in the league based strictly on his talent.
"There are other people who make those evaluations and that's a decision that those teams all make individually," Goodell said. "It's not one that I would make as a commissioner."
Kaepernick drew significant backlash last year after kneeling during the national anthem and saying he could not show pride in a flag of a country that he believes oppresses blacks and other minorities.
During the forum, one fan suggested Kaepernick's prolonged protest was the reason for the decline in the NFL's television ratings last year.
Goodell responded by saying TV ratings are down across sports and entertainment because of changing viewership patterns and methods. He also said he encourages players to be "active in their communities because I think they are leaders in their communities, I think they have a voice and they should express it. And I think it's important for them to do it responsibly."
Goodell used Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall as a good example.
Marshall, who was a teammate of Kaepernick's at Nevada, knelt for seven games then ended his protest after Denver police changed their use-of-force policy.
On other topics, Goodell said:
—Just like the public's view of gambling has evolved, so, too, has its view of marijuana to fight pain but the issue is a medical one.
"We've just proposed to our union in the last month or so that we'll put some research money behind that to see how we can implement that if there really is these kind of advancements and it can address pain management in an effective and safe fashion," Goodell said.
—He doesn't believe the restrictions on padded practices during training camp and the regular season have eroded the overall quality of play.
"No, I don't. You know you look at these guys," he said, pointing to Von Miller and Emmanuel Sanders seated beside him. "It used to be decades ago that we used to have six preseason games. Training camp was 10 or 12 weeks, double sessions every day. These guys take care of themselves every day. They're never out of shape and I think that comes with their professional approach to the game.
"And from my standpoint, the rules have been very healthy. Coaches like to coach, right? But every team has the same rules. Every team has the same restrictions, the same limitations and they have learned to coach them quicker, they've learned to coach them more efficiently."
—He doubts the government will get involved and try to regulate football like it does boxing after a recent study showed that more than 100 former NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy . The brain disease can cause memory loss, depression, violent mood swings and other cognitive and behavioral issues in those exposed to repetitive head trauma.
"We need a lot more research and I think we have led the way on that," Goodell said. "We've led not only on research but we've led on rule changes to our game. We've led on awareness to the injuries. We've led on how we can make new equipment that will make our game safer for our players."
He mentioned the NFL's funding of research and development for a new helmet, the VICIS Zero1, that's coming out this year which will better protect players from concussions.
"So I think because of that leadership, because we've taken the responsibility to manage the game, manage the health and safety of our players, that is going to be seen as, 'Hey, they're doing the right things. ...'" Goodell said.