Roger Goodell says he welcomes President Obama's remarks on player safety

NEW ORLEANS NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will look at eliminating certain low blocks and improve the quality of playing fields as part of a program to improve player safety.

In his annual message on the state of the league two days before Sunday's Super Bowl, Goodell said neurosurgeons will also be added to game day medical staffs.

Goodell pledged to pioneer new approaches to safety and will continue to make it a priority.

He said he welcomed recent comments by President Barack Obama about football safety, and said there are improvements constantly in treating head injuries. He said the game can be made safer while making football better.

In an interview with The New Republic, the newly inaugurated president expressed what many other parents might be thinking following new studies about concussions and recent suicides by former NFL players.

"I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," Obama said.

"I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence," he added. "In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much."

The link between concussions and long-lasting brain damage is one often brought up in the context of professional football players -- but children are vulnerable too. According to the CDC, football is a major contributor to traumatic brain injury-related ER visits in children and teens. A study released in December that looked at children's brains following concussions found troubling evidence that they too may experience long-term effects from the head injury, even after symptoms subside.

On Monday, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said he respected and understood Mr. Obama's opinion about the dangers of American football - and hesitation about having a child play.

The hard-hitting 2011 defensive player of the year also says that no matter how violent the sport, his 4-year-old son will be allowed to take it up if he wants.

"It would have to be his choice," Suggs said on Monday. "Football isn't for everybody. If my son ... came to me and said, 'Dad, I want to play football,' then I would let him play."

The president's thoughts about the future of the NFL - and whether he'd let a son play American football - were a main topic of conversation as Super Bowl week got under way.

Ravens safety Ed Reed, for one, agreed with the sentiment.

"I am with Obama," Reed said. "I have a son. I am not forcing football on my son. If he wants to play it ... I can't make decisions for him. All I can do is say, 'Son, I played it so you don't have to.'"

Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection in his 11 NFL seasons, thinks there needs to be improvements within the league.

"We've got some leaks in it that need to be worked out," Reed said. "Every medical training room should be upgraded; training rooms can be a lot better."

And as he noted: "When you've got the president talking about it, you got something."

Reed isn't sure everyone is being trained properly or cared for adequately.

"I felt like I played the game as safe as possible," he said. "I even tell the guys that they have to take care of their bodies, take care of themselves. If you take care of that, it will take care of you."

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health announced recently that Junior Seau - the star linebacker who died of a self-inflicted gunshot last year - had a degenerative brain disease often linked to repeated blows to the head.

Seau is one of several dozen American football players who were found to have chronic traumatic ecephalopathy, or CTE.

The NFL is facing lawsuits brought by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects of concussions.

Players who were asked on Monday about Obama's comments tended to side with Ravens center Matt Birk, who did not hesitate before saying: "I have three sons, and once they get to a certain age, if they want to play football, I would let them."

San Francisco's Boone doesn't see how there is a lot of room for the game itself to change.

"There's going to be injuries and there's going to be problems," Boone said, "but we're working on trying to prevent them."

His coach, Jim Harbaugh, responded to the president's remarks in a lighter vein. Harbaugh, who played quarterback in the NFL for 14 seasons, mentioned his own child.

"Well, I have a 4-month-old - almost, soon-to-be 5-month-old - son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then (there will) be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older," San Francisco's coach said with a chuckle. "That's the first thing that jumps into my mind, if other parents are thinking that way."

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