NEW ORLEANS - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that he remains committed to promoting player safety and doing whatever is necessary to address growing concerns that the injury factor in football remains so high.
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That could mean increased suspensions for players who repeatedly violate the rules when it comes to tackling technique.
"Suspensions get through to the players," Goodell said. "We have seen an escalation in the discipline because we are trying to take these techniques out of the game. I stand by our record, because I think we have made those changes and have made the game safer. But I think we are going to have to see discipline continue to escalate, particularly on repeat offenders."
The NFL Players Association suggested on Thursday that a "chief of safety" officer be introduced to the NFL with agreement from both the players and the league, but Goodell said no such request had crossed his desk. The NFLPA also said 78 percent of players polled do not trust their medical staffs.
Goodell said a group from the league met with union officials for about four hours last Friday, and that the request for a safety officer did not come up.
"I can't appoint someone to make the game safer," he said.
Goodell said he was not troubled by President Barack Obama's recent comments about safety concerns in football.
"The issue of player health and safety has always been a priority and will continue to be a priority. The benefits of playing football, it teaches you character, values, teamwork, extraordinary lessons in life," Goodell said. "I welcome the President's comments because we're working to make the game safe. There's a better recognition of head injuries and treating them conservatively. What we are doing is leading the way and telling people that you need to treat these injuries seriously. We have more to do, but we will keep working on it."
The commissioner said he expects discipline to increase when it comes to illegal hits.
"When you're involved in dangerous techniques," he said, "we're going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them."
Goodell indicated that he expected HGH testing will begin sometime before the 2013 season. HGH testing was approved by the current collective bargaining agreement, which began in 2011, but the league and union have yet to come up with a testing plan. The NFL believes current HGH testing procedures are adequate, but the union has not signed off on a testing program.
"[HGH testing] is the right thing to do for the players and it's the right thing to do to send a message to everyone else in sports," he said. "The science is there. We need to get to that agreement."
Goodell also said he does not plan to give up any of his authority for handling disciplinary issues. He was criticized for being too harsh in handing down sanctions in connection with the Saints' bounty program that allegedly occurred from 2009-11 under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
"That is not something we're going to relent on," Goodell said on his powers to issue disciplinary measures when he believes it's necessary. "That is the commissioner's role. You can hold me accountable."
Some other issues Goodell addressed:
There is no concern on the league's part about any complications associated with the first outdoor Super Bowl next year, set to be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. "The game was made to be played in the elements," Goodell said.
Despite being frequently criticized by Saints fans for his handling of the bounty case, Goodell said he has felt welcome in New Orleans. On his reception in New Orleans: "I couldn't feel more welcomed here," he said. "I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We have a voodoo doll. The last couple of nights, I've been out with a lot of the people I worked with after the Katrina tragedy and we all reflected on how well we worked together. ... I understand the fans' loyalty is to the team. They had no part in this (bounty scandal). They were completely innocent. I support their passion."
The league will begin expanded postseason examinations to look into the physical and mental condition of players and better preparing players to begin their post-career lives.
The league is willing to expand the "Rooney Rule," which requires teams to interview at least one African-American candidate for all head coaching and general manager openings. Goodell said he was "disappointed" that no minorities were hired for any of the eight head coaching positions or seven GM jobs that were filled after the 2012 season. "The Rooney Rule has been very effective, but we have to find out what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. We want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible situations and give people the opportunity to do that. There were a record number of interviews, but we didn't get the outcomes we wanted."