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February 3, 2013

SUNDAY ISSUE: Goodell aims to share blame on player safety

NEW ORLEANS — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to share the blame.

“Safety,” he said at his annual Super Bowl news conference, “is all of our responsibilities.”

Not surprisingly, given that thousands of former players are suing the league about its handling of concussions, the topics of player health and improved safety dominated Goodell’s 45-minute session Friday. And he often sounded like someone seeking to point out that players or others are at fault for some of the sport’s problems — and need to help fix them.

“I’ll stand up. I’ll be accountable. It’s part of my responsibility. I’ll do everything,” Goodell said. “But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it.”

Injuries from hits to the head or to the knees, Goodell noted, can result from improper tackling techniques used by players and taught by coaches. The NFL Players Association needs to allow testing for human growth hormone to go forward so it can finally start next season, which Goodell hopes will happen. He said prices for Super Bowl tickets have soared in part because fans re-sell them above face value.

And asked what he most rues about the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation — a particularly sensitive issue around these parts, of course — Goodell replied: “My biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get (bounties) out of the game, to make the game safer. Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union.”

He addressed other subjects, such as a “new generation of the Rooney Rule” after none of 15 recently open coach or general manager jobs went to a minority candidate, meaning “we didn’t have the outcomes we wanted”; using next year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey as a test for future cold-weather, outdoor championship games; and saying he welcomed President Barack Obama’s recent comments expressing concern about football’s violence because “we want to make sure that people understand what we’re doing to make our game safer.”

Goodell mentioned some upcoming changes, including the plan to add independent neurologists to sidelines to help with concussion care during games — something players have asked for and the league opposed until now.

“The No. 1 issue is: Take the head out of the game,” Goodell said. “I think we’ve seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they had when you go back several decades.”

He said one tool the league can use to cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits is suspending players who keep doing it.

“We’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders,” Goodell said. “We’re going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them.”

The league will add “expanded physicals at the end of each season ... to review players from a physical, mental and life skills standpoint so that we can support them in a more comprehensive fashion,” Goodell said.

With question after question about less-than-light matters, one reporter drew a chuckle from Goodell by asking how he’s been treated this week in a city filled with supporters of the Saints who are angry about the way the club was punished for the bounty system the NFL said existed from 2009-11.

“My picture, as you point out, is in every restaurant. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll,” Goodell said.

But he added that he can “appreciate the passion” of the fans and, actually, “couldn’t feel more welcome here.”

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