ATLANTA (AP) — After three decades in the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell knows he won't please a lot of people with tough decisions.
Those decisions have become especially difficult in the wake of the Saints bounties program and subsequent punishments he handed out to coaches, players and executives involved.
Goodell briefly on Tuesday addressed the defamation lawsuit filed against him by New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma after he suspended Vilma for the 2012 season.
He said at the owners meeting he has "not spent a lot of time" on the lawsuit, in which Vilma contends the commissioner made false statements that tarnished Vilma's reputation and hindered his ability to earn a living playing football.
"I've been around this league for 30 years and you are going to make decisions that will not be unanimous, it just doesn't happen, particularly in a game where there is a lot of emotion, a lot of passion," Goodell said. "What I have to do is what is in best interests of the game long term.
"You watch Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, you are part of the decision-making process, and you see how they go about it. You watch other leagues, try to take in every perspective.
"You don't worry about a popularity contest. You can't."
Goodell is not popular in New Orleans these days, nor with the players union, which has challenged many of his recent decisions with grievances, appeals and through Vilma's suit. On Tuesday, the union said the league making mandatory the use of thigh and knee pads in 2013 was improper and should be collectively bargained.
The players also have asked arbitrators to rule just how much power, if any, Goodell has to punish the Saints for what the league found was a three-year cash-for-pain program that targeted specific players.
"Reality is that it is part of operating in a pretty complex world," Goodell said. "You have to be open about the initiatives you want to take, don't expect all parties to agree, and you have to drive toward solutions. What is good for the game? Pads is part of it."
Asked if he has self-doubts about his decisions, he nodded.
"Sure you second-guess yourself, that is what an appeals process is for," he said. "You want to hear what the players have to say. When we get to the appeals, we will be able to talk about it."
After those appeals are heard and a final decision is rendered — if the arbitrator finds that Goodell has the authority to do so — the commissioner expects some evidence in the bounties scandal will be made public.
One of the suspended players, linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, believes that information should be disclosed now. Fujita said the claims against him have hurt him personally and that he's now pitted in a battle of his word against the league's.
"That's the reality of the situation that we're in, and unfortunately for a lot of us, we're on public trial and that's unfortunate," said Fujita, who was given a three-game suspension.
As for Goodell, Fujita added: "It's a challenging position he's in and I'm sensitive to that. But I think there's also a better way to go about doing things."
Meanwhile, in what normally is a down time for the NFL, there are story lines galore. And lots of conflict with the union, even after a 4 1-2 month lockout in 2011 led to a 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
"You don't expect to agree on everything, that is part of the dialogue," Goodell said. "You have got to put issues on the table and drive toward solutions that are good for the game, good for the fans and will maintain the integrity of the game.
"We continue to address the issues, don't always agree, and continue to seek solutions."
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this story.