Player safety, the New Orleans Saints bounty program, cold-weather Super Bowls, even his popularity among New Orleans restaurant owners - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell touched on a wide range of topics Friday during the annual ``State of the NFL.'' Among the highlights:
Goodell defended the league, which has come under increasing scrutiny following new studies about the long-term effects of concussions as well as recent suicides by former NFL players. President Barack Obama recently said if he had a son, he's not sure he'd let him play football. And the NFL is being sued by thousands of former players.
Goodell says steps the league has taken in recent seasons have made the game safer, and more steps are likely going forward.
``We will not relent on this,'' he said.
Neurosurgeons will be part of gameday medical staffs beginning next season, he said. The league is also looking at eliminating certain low blocks and will continue to impose harsh punishments for illegal hits - particularly for players who are repeat offenders.
Proper tackling technique also needs to be emphasized, getting players to get away from using their heads and return to using their shoulders and arms.
``The No. 1 issue is, take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said.
Asked specifically about Obama's concerns, Goodell said ``I welcome'' the comments because it keeps attention on the dangers of head trauma.
``What we are doing is leading the way to try and make sure people understand you need to treat these injuries seriously,'' he said.
Goodell refused to apologize for his harsh treatment of the Saints' bounty program, even if it means he's not the most popular man in New Orleans this week.
Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, and four current or former Saints players were punished after an investigation found the club had had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.
``There's no question that there was a bounty program in place for three years. I think that is bad for the players, it's bad for the game,'' Goodell said. ``I don't believe bounties are going to be part of football going forward, and I think that's good for everybody.''
His only regret was not convincing teams, players and coaches that everyone shares in the responsibility of making the game safer.
``I wasn't able to make that point clearly enough with the union and with others,'' he said. ``But that is something we're going to be incredibly relentless on.''
Despite eight coaching vacancies and openings for seven general managers, no minorities were hired for the NFL's most high-profile positions this off-season. Goodell says that's unacceptable.
``There was full compliance of the Rooney Rule. In fact, I believe there were a record number of interviews,'' Goodell said. ``But we didn't have the outcome we wanted. It's very important to the success of the league to do that, and we're committed to find that solution.''
Goodell said the league needs to look at whether the rule needs to be expanded or adapted.
COLD-WEATHER SUPER BOWLS
Next year's Super Bowl in New York is unlikely to be the last played outdoors in a cold-weather city, judging by Goodell's remarks.
``The game of football is made to be played in the elements,'' he said. ``Now, we hope they will not be extreme, but we will be prepared if that's the case. Some of the most classic games in history were played in extreme conditions.''
- Nancy Armour - http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour
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