"This is about looking forward," he said. "This is about the future. This is about changing the way all of our lives are led, whether it's riding a bicycle or playing football or being a member of the military."
In September, the NFL announced a donation of $30 million for medical research to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the NIH's fundraising arm.
One influential NFL owner, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, is pleased to see these kinds of projects now.
"I wish it had happened sooner. The evolution, the issue has been coming to the forefront and ... a lot of times we didn't talk about it, or talk about it enough. But we need to talk about it and do something about it," Kraft said.
"Everyone has been spending money in bits and pieces, but now it will be concentrated and this will become a tremendous resource," he added. "I don't think anyone has the answers, how to treat it, whether to continue to play — there haven't been answers, and we need to find the answers."
The Head Health Initiative described Monday, which also includes sports apparel and equipment maker Under Armour, involves a four-year, $40 million research and development program to find ways to detect and diagnose brain injuries, and a two-year "innovation challenge" that would put up to $20 million toward research to protect against those injuries.
Goodell thinks helmets can be improved.
"The better protection the helmet provides, sometimes the more likely (players) are to use their head, and that's a dilemma that we have to change, in part through rules," Goodell said. "But I also see that we could potentially change the helmet by making it lighter. (That) would make it less of a weapon."
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AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter contributed to this report.