Goodell takes on politics, Deflategate and rule changes ahead of Super Bowl LI

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to chuckle when a Spanish-speaking reporter asked him about the league building its global brand, "instead of building something else."

The end of that question was an allusion to the border wall between the United States and Mexico proposed by president Donald Trump. 

"The NFL does bond communities together and can be a bridge that unites people," Goodell said. "That's something we're proud of. We have a unique positon on Sunday to hold an event that will bring the world together."

Goodell deflected other Trump-related questions during his annual state-of-the-league news conference on Wednesday in Houston, four days before the New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, but had plenty of other topics to address.

After famously being absent from Patriots games over the last year in the wake of the 'Deflategate' saga, the commissioner was asked point-blank if he was avoiding Foxborough and Gillette Stadium.

Goodell denied he was and stood by his decision to fine the Patriots, strip them of draft picks and suspend quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season.

"We went through a process and applied discipline according to rules," Goodell said. "We're moving on from it.

"It's not awkward at all for me. We have a job to do. There was a violation. We applied a process and discipline and we came to a conclusion that was supported by the facts and the courts. ... This is just about taking care of business and upholding the integrity of our teams."

As the questions continued, Goodell did get testy but said he understands why Patriots fans were upset. He has "no doubt" Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who admitted to having a strained relationship with his once-close friend, would invite him back to Foxborough. 

"I have disagreements with all 32 of our teams. I'm not afraid of disagreement," he said. "I don't think disagreement leads to distrust or hatred. It's a disagreement. You take your disagreements, you find a common place and you move forward. It's not personal in nature."

Goodell's handling of Deflategate and other controversial issues has raised questions in some quarters about his job performance, but he said he is not worried about that perception.

"The thing you have to do every day is to earn that trust," Goodell said. "I don't expect for one second for people to agree with every decision I make or we make as a league. Those are often difficult, sometimes contentious and sometimes less-than-perfect decisions, but you do them in the interest of the long-term health of the NFL."

Goodell even praised the ratings of "Thursday Night Football" and said the league would not decrease the number of Thursday games despite long-running complaints from players.

"It's something we're very committed to," Goodell said, adding there are no indications there is a rise to injuries because of a short week and that the quality of play is high on Thursday night.

The commissioner did admit the pace of play must improve to shorten games and give fans a better product to watch. 

"We want to make the game as exciting and action-packed as possible," Goodell said. "That's what we work toward all the time."

Goodell suggested the competition committee will look at instant replay and possibly bring a tablet to the sideline for officials to review replays immediately. He also said the league will look into having fewer stoppages and commercial breaks during games.

"We don't want unnecessary delays," he said. "Less is more in this area."

Another hit to the league's image is the arrest of players and extraordinarily long investigations. Goodell said there is no timetable on the completion of a domestic violence investigation into Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or when Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon would be allowed to return. 

"Every arrest we have is one too many," Goodell said.  "But the vast majority of our players are extraordinary young men who do great things in their communities."