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.


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 -


EDITOR'S NOTE - ``Super Bowl Watch'' shows you the Super Bowl and the events surrounding the game through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across New Orleans and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

Philadelphia Eagles lineman Michael Bennett has been indicted on felony abuse for allegedly pushing an elderly NRG Stadium worker during Super Bowl LI.

Bennett was indicted by the Harris County, Texas district attorney's office for injury to the elderly — which is intentionally and knowingly causing injury to a person 65 years or older, according to a press release from the Harris County Sheriffs' Office.

A warrant has been issued for Bennett's arrest.

The 66-year-old paraplegic stadium worker was attempting to control field access when Bennett allegedly pushed her. 

The maximum penalty Bennett faces is ten years in prison in addition to a $10,000 fine.


Bennett — whose brother Martellus played in that Super Bowl for New England — was a member of the Seattle Seahawks during the incident and was in attendance as a noncompetitive player.

The NFL has been made aware of the situation and is looking into the matter, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 32-year-old 10-year NFL veteran could potentially face NFL discipline under the league's personal conduct policy. 


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Wizards host students from Stoneman Douglas High School ahead of 'March For Our Lives'

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Wizards host students from Stoneman Douglas High School ahead of 'March For Our Lives'

With a march on Washington planned for this weekend following the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were invited by the Wizards to attend their Friday morning practice at Capital One Arena.

About 20 of the kids showed up to watch the Wizards practice, took pictures with players, got a tour of the facilities and walked away with Wizards hats and gear. It was a small break away from what has been a tumultous time ever since the massacre at their school on Feb. 14.

Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis was on hand to speak with the students, who are set to lead the 'March For Our Lives' through downtown Washington on Saturday.


Wizards guard Bradley Beal met with the media after taking photos with the students.

"For us to be able to take their mind off of it for just a few minutes is always a great feeling," Beal said. "At the end of the day, we're all human beings regardless of our careers are and what our jobs are. A lot of us have families, kids, brothers and sisters. The last thing that you want to happen is what happened to several of those families. You can never imagine."

Beal went to college in Florida and has participated in his own forms of activism. He has found inspiration in the efforts by Stoneman Douglas students. They have taken what happened to their school as a catalyst for what they hope produces change in the ability to protect similar attacks from happening again.


Beal, 24, finds that admirable.

"It's amazing sometimes to learn from the youth on how to do things," Beal said. "It's a testament to where our world needs to lead to, to where we need to get to and to come together as a society. It starts with us as the younger generation. We've gotta come together with love and do things like this. I think what they're doing is awesome. It's spreading positive vibes and it's true humanitarian work that they're doing."

The Stoneman Douglas students are expected to attend Friday night's Wizards-Nuggets game as well.

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