During Roger Goodell's tenure as NFL Commissioner, the league has taken several significant steps to protect its players. Most assume that Goodell is looking to protect players from injuries or long-term damage to their bodies, however a recent feature suggests Goodell has a much more dire fear.

ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr. profiled Goodell in this week's edition of ESPN The Magazine, and in the story Van Natta uncovered that one of Goodell's greatest fears is that a player will die on the field.

"He's terrified of it," a Hall of Fame player who speaks regularly with Goodell told Van Natta. "It wouldn't just be a tragedy. It would be awfully bad for business."

Only one player has ever died during a game, and that was when Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes died of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1971. But apparently Goodell is fearing for the worst. Van Natta writes that "Goodell has told friends privately that he believes if the game's hard-knocks culture doesn't change, it could happen again."

Goodell's challenge, then, is to continue to grow a league that is expected to rake in more than $10 billion in 2013 while also implementing significant safety measures. While Goodell has promised to focus on safety, and several rule changes indicate that he will follow through on that vow, he is in an extremely difficult position with the brutality of the sport being questioned by many doctors and even President Barack Obama.

To read Van Natta's full feature, see here.

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