NEW ORLEANS -- Player-safety questions dominated NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's state-of-the-league address Friday, and Alex Smith's plight with the 49ers does not fall into that category, in Goodell's opinion.
Instead, Goodell placed Smith's benching squarely on coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to stick with Colin Kaepernick as the 49ers' starting quarterback. Kaepernick will make his 10th career start Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.
"I believe very strongly there's a difference between a medical decision and a football decision," Goodell said. "I'm glad he came forward and identified he had an injury."
Smith was enjoying a career-best season before sustaining a concussion in a Nov. 11 tie against the St. Louis Rams. Kaepernick replaced Smith the following game, and Smith remained on the sideline a week later despite being medically cleared.
Upon his benching, Smith said he did nothing to lose his job other that get a concussion, and that message surely spread throughout NFL locker rooms where other players fear falling victim to the same scenario.
"I understand the somewhat dilemma," Goodell said of reporting injuries. "The highest priority needed is players rising their hand when they have an injury."
In another 49ers-related topic, Goodell announced that the 49ers' Oct. 27 game in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars has sold out, as has the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers game Sept. 29, also in Wembley
"There are passionate fans who love the NFL in the U.K. and globally," Goodell said. "We're beginning the process of what's the next step to grow the game in London. Should we play three games?"
Other issues addressed by Goodell:
On testing for human growth hormone (HGH), which was agreed to in the last collective bargaining agreement but has yet to be implemented:
"I believe that HGH testing is going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season," Goodell said. "It's the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It's the right thing to do for the integrity of the game."
"I think we're going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders. It's not just the player, the defenseless player, that's being protected; it's the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate,"
"The reality is we have to get back to tackling, using the shoulders, using your arms properly to tackle ... there is a strike zone, and that's where we are encouraging our players to focus on and our coaches to coach that way, and it's made a difference."
"We have to look to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is ... there was full compliance and, I believe, a record number of interviews. But we didn't have the outcomes we wanted."
"`That was news to me as of yesterday. I'm disappointed, because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world -- the Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, Hospital for Special Surgery. The medical care that is provided to our players is extraordinary."
"You know when you look back at it, my picture, as you point out, is in every restaurant. I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade. We got a voodoo doll. I'm serious, really, the people here have been incredible."