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(Reuters) — The head of the National Football League, in remarks before the Super Bowl on Sunday, defended his organization's efforts to make the game safer and flatly denied an allegation that it had deliberately covered up the risks of head injuries in the sport.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," said there had been no effort by the NFL to hide the dangers of brain damage in football, as claimed in a lawsuit by the family of an NFL player who killed himself last year.
"In fact, we're all learning more about brain injuries, and the NFL has led the way," Mr. Goodell said in an interview that took place in New Orleans, where the Baltimore Ravens played the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The sport, which celebrates the ferocity with which players deliver heavy 'hits' to tackle and block each other, is under fire over safety and faces lawsuits from former players that could cost the League hundreds of millions of dollars.
The debate has even reached the White House, where President Barack Obama last week suggested the game make changes to reduce the level of violence, even if that made it less exciting.
President Obama, a football fan himself, told the New Republic magazine that if he had a son, he would have had to "think long and hard" before allowing him to play the game. The comment by President Obama, who has two daughters, has resonated with parents across the country.
The family of former football star Junior Seau sued the NFL in January, saying brain damage that he suffered during 20 years in the NFL had led to his suicide, and that the league had long concealed the neurological risks in the game.
A study by independent researchers found that Mr. Seau, 43, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE — the same debilitating brain disease diagnosed in at least two other former NFL players who committed suicide.
Mr. Goodell said the NFL had led the sporting industry in studying the risks of brain damage, and highlighted the millions of dollars it had committed to research.
"We started a concussion committee back in the mid-1990s with the players association to study these issues and to advance science," Mr. Goodell said. "We're obviously learning more and more and we're investing more and more, and I think that is going to lead to answers."
In addition to the lawsuit filed by Mr. Seau's family, which claims fraud, negligence and wrongful death, the league was sued last year in federal court by some 2000 former NFL players.
Bob Costas, a veteran NBC sportscaster, told NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday that the lawsuits could eventually cost the NFL up to $1 billion in damages.
"I like football despite its violence, a lot of people like it because of the violence," Mr. Costas said. "The way football is currently played in the NFL is fundamentally unsustainable."
A federal appeals court has denied additional disability benefits sought by a former National Football League player.