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Sports

Commissioner Goodell says NFL ready to tackle safety, growth

Growth of game high on agenda

INDIANAPOLIS - A year ago, the state of the league address by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell set the stage for the impending lockout.

Now, with a new collective bargaining agreement in hand and 10 years of labor peace on the horizon, Goodell’s question and answer session with the media yesterday focused on the growth of the game and safety for the players.

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Topping the newsworthy tidbits was Goodell’s announcement that Thursday night games on the NFL Network would be played from Week 2 until Week 15. Previously, Thursday night games did not begin until Thanksgiving.

“This will result in every team appearing in a Thursday football game and every team having a primetime appearance throughout the season,’’ Goodell said, with Patriots owner and broadcast committee chairman Robert Kraft on hand. “We think that’s great for the fans, we think it’s great for the teams, because everyone will get that primetime exposure, and we think it’s great for the network.’’

Other topics addressed by Goodell:

■Patriots’ London game not set in stone: The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission said the game between the Rams and Patriots in London next season violates the stadium lease with the city. Goodell hopes that will be resolved. “We’re going to play the London games,’’ he said. “We hope it will be with the Rams and the New England Patriots next year. That’s what we planned. I think it’s great for the city of St. Louis to be able to get that global exposure, but there are issues that are going to have to get resolved.’’

■The league’s perceived indifference to concussions and other long-term injury problems for players: “We will continue to address medical issues to make sure we can address the population of our retired players,’’ Goodell said. “We will not quit. We are not done yet. We are going to continue to do what we possibly can to help our retired players, the current players, and future players by making the game safer. We will do that with rules. We will do that with improving the equipment and we will do it by making sure that we pioneer research that’s going to make sure we understand all there is about brain injuries and brain disease; and make sure that we are being responsible as leaders . . . We’re not going to relent on safety . . . Medical decisions will override competitive decisions.’’ The NFL will discuss adding independent neurologists to sidelines for next season.

■Expansion not on the docket: Goodell said that the topic of expansion has not been broached with owners and doesn’t expect it to be brought up at the league meetings in March. When the league does expand, it would be to 34 teams. “We want to keep our teams where they are,’’ Goodell said. “We believe that it is healthier for the league in the long term. We’re working to get stadiums built.’’

■Push for HGH testing: The players’ union has pushed back hard against the implementation of HGH testing, but Goodell wants it in place during the offseason. “We believe that the science is clear,’’ he said. “I do not hear any dispute from scientists around the world on the fact that this test is valid, and that we have the basis to put in and implement an HGH test that is fair to the players. We expect to be able to do that.’’

■High-scoring games here to stay: Goodell thinks the rise in the passing game will be offset by changes in defensive strategy, not rule changes to help the defense. “I think fans like the idea of high-scoring football, but most importantly, they like competitive football, and that’s what we had this year,’’ Goodell said. As for the new kickoff rules, Goodell said they did cut down on injuries, which was the purpose. “It was to try and make the game safer and to protect our players,’’ he said. “It had that kind of an impact. We saw injury rates are down. They are particularly down as it relates to concussions across the league.’’

Other items discussed by Goodell: He will recommend that the competition committee study moving the trade deadline to later in the season; the league will continue to push into more overseas markets and seek a resolution to the Los Angeles stadium situation; the NFL wants to continue with the blackout television policy; and future outdoor Super Bowls in cold-weather cities will be dependent upon the 2014 game at the Meadowlands.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregABedard

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