NEW ORLEANS -- Safety first.
That's what NFL players association executive director DeMaurice Smith wants and that's what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is promising.
When exactly the two sides will view the current state of affairs the same way is something no one can predict.
On Friday during his state of the NFL address, Goodell broached a subject that should cause a considerable amount of discussion between the sides. He would like to start testing players for human growth hormone.
"I believe safety is all of our responsibilities," Goodell said. "The players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it. All of us are going to have to do it. I'll do anything to help make our game safer and better, and they have my commitment to that."
"I think that for the players, for their health and well-being long-term, it's the right thing to do," added Goodell, who believes HGH testing will be implemented for the 2013 season. "The science is there. Baseball, the Olympics, everyone believes the science is there and is utilizing the test, so we need to get to that agreement."
The sides have agreed that testing should be done. They just can't agree on the method.
Players have not been resistant to performance-enhancing drug prohibitions since those who don't take them may be at a physical disadvantage when they play against those who do. The issue of safety comes up when players are forced to compete against someone pumped up on illegal substances.
The NFL wants to implement testing for safety reasons, but it also is concerned about the integrity of the game.
"Off the field, it's very important for us to maintain our integrity and our brand," Goodell said. "We expect the people that are involved in our game, from the commissioner to players to the coaches, to make sure they uphold those standards."
Goodell received several questions about the continued emphasis on punishing players for hits that until recently were completely legal. Some players have said the fines that are being handed out are taking away from the way the game should be played.
The league has cracked down specifically on hits to "defenseless" players, regardless of whether they are to the players' heads. "I think we're going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders," Goodell said. "It's not just the player, the defenseless player, that's being protected; it's the person doing the striking.
"Taking these hits out of the game can be positive. The most effective way of doing that, and I'm not for it because we want to see all of our players on the field, is when they are repeat offenders and they are involved with these dangerous techniques, that we're going to have to take them off the field. Suspension gets through to them."
Overcoming heartache: Oakland Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson was preparing for a game against his former team, the Green Bay Packers, in December 2011.
As Johnson watched tape at the Raiders' facility, he received this text message from his mother: "He shot her."
It became a life-altering moment for Johnson, the Packers' seventh-round draft choice in 2003 who is now a backup for the Baltimore Ravens .
His sister, 33-year-old Jennifer Johnson, had been shot multiple times and killed by her estranged boyfriend, Eugene Esters, on Dec. 5, 2011 outside an apartment complex in Fort Worth, Texas. Police also said Esters shot and wounded Johnson's mother, Della . Apparently, there had been an argument over visitation rights for their 3-year-old daughter, Solia .
Johnson, 33, and his wife took in his sister's 14-year-old daughter, Sidney . Solia now lives with Johnson's mother.
At the time, Johnson was a starter for the Raiders, who were 7-5 and fighting for a playoff berth. But not only didn't Johnson play against the Packers -- he was inactive -- he didn't play the rest of the season.
"I told (coach) Hue Jackson I couldn't play that game because I'd be a discredit to my team," Johnson said at midweek. "They really wanted me to play but it was more of a psychological thing with me at that time. My body was there, but my mind wasn't."
After Oakland's 46-16 defeat at Lambeau Field, the Raiders placed Johnson on a reserve list in which he would continue being paid but would no longer need to remain with the team.
"My family was more important to me than football," said Johnson. "They understood that."
In March, the Raiders granted Johnson's request to be released even though he had a year left on his contract.
"There were just too many memories and I didn't want to go through that again," he said. "I wanted a fresh start."
Johnson, 6 feet 1 inch and 200 pounds, didn't find a job until the Ravens signed him Nov. 13. He has played in five of 10 games, starting one and playing 78 snaps from scrimmage.
After being traded by the Packers to St. Louis in September 2005, Johnson eventually landed with the Raiders . He started 29 games for Oakland from 2007-'11, making eight interceptions.
On the one-year anniversary of his sister's murder, Johnson asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh if he could address his new teammates. Just four days earlier, Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher had shot to death his girlfriend before committing suicide.
"Never in my life had I gotten up in front of the team, but I knew it was important and I felt the spirit," Johnson told the Baltimore Sun last month. "I let them know I was having a normal day when I got a call telling me my sister was dead. It was the same situation as Kansas City.
"I told them you never really know what a person is going through as a teammate outside of those white lines. When you leave those doors at work, you might have hell at home and then you go to work and put on a front.
"Unfortunately, Jovan Belcher didn't talk to anyone and he did something there's no coming back from. He needed a friend. I told the guys, if you need advice, go to each other as brothers and don't be afraid to ask for help."
No surprises: Coaches John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh held a joint news conference Friday, the first time in the history of the Super Bowl the two coaches were together for the final news briefing.
It was a very relaxed setting, although Jim, the 49ers coach, was typically uptight while John seemed far more comfortable. Mostly, the two men seemed ready for Sunday to get here, although they did have a few fun moments.
But the two also were reminded that one of them was going to leave the field a champion and one wouldn't. John said their relationship does not stand in the way of the natural desire to win.
"It'll be no different with this game and probably even on a greater scale because of the opportunity to win a championship," he said.
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