NEW ORLEANS -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is maintaining his stance that repeat violators who deliver hits to the head should be suspended and pushing for the competition committee to review rules changes on blocks below the knees.
Despite criticism from the players, Goodell will continue to monitor blows to the head and said the league may step up enforcement in the future. He believes suspensions are an effective punishment that impacts offenders.
"We have to take these hits out of the game that we think have a higher risk of causing injuries," Goodell said Friday during his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference in New Orleans. "And the focus was on defenseless players. I think we're going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders. It's not just the defenseless player being protected, it's the person doing the striking."
When he left the podium, Goodell also said in an interview with NFL Network that the league intends to study the possibility of playoff expansion. At the 2012 fall owner's meetings, the concept of adding two wild-card teams in each conference -- pushing the number of playoff participants to 16 of the total 32 teams in the league and affording first-round postseason bye weeks to the top three seeds in the AFC and NFC -- gained traction.
Goodell's focus on safety includes the possibility of eliminating some low blocks, adding neurosurgeons to game-day medical staffs to monitor concussion symptoms and improving field conditions.
"The issue of player health and safety has always been a priority and will continue to be a priority," Goodell said. "The benefits of playing football ... it teaches you character, values, teamwork, extraordinary lessons in life.
"The No. 1 issue is to take the head out of the game. There are several theories. The helmet is better, they feel safer. The face mask. We have stressed the strike zone and we have seen a dramatic change over the last couple of years."
Goodell applauded President Obama's recent comments about football safety and vowed to look at new approaches to protect players.
"There's a better recognition of head injuries and treating them conservatively," Goodell said. "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's concerns go beyond player safety. He also addressed the league's Rooney Rule and the lack of minority candidates hired for head coaching and general manager openings during the offseason.
"The Rooney Rule has been very effective," Goodell said. "We have to look to see what the next generation is. We have to take it to another level."
He emphasized the NFL is committed to diversity.
"We want to make sure we have the best people in the best possible positions," Goodell said. "We didn't have the outcomes we wanted."
The elimination of performance-enhancing drugs also remains a focal point for the league.
"I believe HGH testing will happen before the 2013 NFL season," Goodell said. "It's 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. The science is there. We need to get to that agreement."