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Football Even superfans see concussions as a threat to pro football’s future

The floor belonged to Philip Feliciano, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell waited patiently for his question.

Given an opportunity to ask Goodell about anything he wanted, Feliciano, a 55-year-old vascular surgeon from Bellevue, Wash., wanted to know about the league's efforts to help prevent head injuries. Even for the NFL's most ardent fans, head injuries remain one of the biggest concerns.

"I think it threatens the viability of the game if we can't make it safe," Feliciano said.

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Feliciano is one of 32 season-ticket holders who travelled to Chicago this week to join the NFL for a variety of activities surrounding the draft. The fans and their guests had breakfast Thursday before participating in a question-and-answer session with Goodell and taking pictures with the commissioner.

The league allowed The Associated Press to watch as Goodell fielded questions on topics ranging from the Chargers' future in San Diego, the number of preseason games and the possibility of putting a team in another country.

Feliciano has been a season ticket holder for 19 years. He said he was watching the Seahawks' game at Dallas on Nov. 1 when Ricardo Lockette suffered ligament damage, a disk injury and a concussion in a collision late in the first half of Seattle's 13-12 victory.

Lockette's injury prompted his question to Goodell, but the subject of head injuries also was on the mind of Terry Broyles, a 64-year-old season ticket holder for the Chargers for 30 years.

"Very concerned about that," Broyles said. "I'm concerned about the mothers and their kids and letting kids play football and get into the sport, and I think it's something that's very alarming and concerning, but somehow, you've got people that are larger big men crashing into each other, there's going to be injuries. But the concussion thing is a very serious problem."

A federal court this month upheld an estimated $1-billion plan by the NFL to settle thousands of concussion lawsuits filed by former players. Critics of the proposed deal appealed the decision Thursday, contending the lead players' lawyers negotiated away compensation for chronic traumatic encephalopathy because the science is still being developed.

The settlement would cover more than 20,000 NFL retirees for the next 65 years. The league estimates that 6,000 former players, or nearly three in 10, could develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia.

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Goodell said making the game safer is the league's No. 1 priority, and then pointed to rule changes, improving equipment and investment in research as signs of the NFL's commitment to player safety.

"And I think the last is just what we do from a medical support standpoint," Goodell said. "There's greater awareness, which I think we're a large part of that because we brought that on, and I think we've promoted that. We said 'You have to manage injuries properly,' and it's affected not just football, but all sports."

Feliciano seemed satisfied with Goodell's answer.

"We all want the league to make it safe for the players, and I think they're doing everything they can to do that," Feliciano said. "But it is a violent game."

Broyles used his question to take Goodell's temperature on the future of the Chargers, who are trying to get an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that calls for an increase in the hotel tax to help pay for a $1.8-billion stadium and convention centre annex in downtown San Diego.

If the stadium measure fails, the Chargers have the option of moving into a stadium with the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood in 2019.

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"I think your community is better off with the Chargers. I believe the Chargers are better off with San Diego, too," Goodell told Broyles. "We need to make that point, and I would tell you I think communities that have lost a team, that's a tough day, there's a lot of regret that comes with that."

Goodell also told the fans he thinks the league should eliminate at least one preseason game, and the chances of an international NFL team some day were "very high." He mentioned Toronto and Mexico City as possible locations before pointing to Britain as the most likely destination.

The NFL is playing three games in London next season.

"Their passion is growing," Goodell said. "They're very sophisticated fans, and they want more."

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