Goodell Talks Concussions at Harvard School of Public Health

What follows are excerpts from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s speech Thursday at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Biggest Challenge

“I can say in no uncertain terms that this is our biggest challenge:  Changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent – especially the risk of head injury.”

Impacting All Sports

“The simple truth is that any physical activity comes with risk and reward. Head injuries occur in sports.  Earlier this month, many of the world’s top sports concussion experts convened in Zurich, Switzerland. It is the leading conference on concussion in sport. In attendance were experts from the International Olympic Committee, international soccer (or as they say “football”), rugby, equestrian competition, Australian Rules Football and many other sports, including the NFL. The chief medical officer of the international soccer federation noted that 300 million people around the world play soccer. Concussions are hardly an issue limited to football or the NFL.”

Weighing the Risk

“Is playing tackle football worth the risk? For some, the answer may be no. But millions say yes. We emphatically say yes. And I pledge that the NFL will do everything in its power to minimize the risks and maximize the rewards of this great and increasingly global game.”

Linking PEDs and Concussions?

“Performance enhancing drugs are dangerous.  They also present unknown risk that may be seriously impacting an athlete’s health in ways he or she never considered. Some have suggested that there may be a link between performance enhancing drugs and concussions and brain disease.”

Progress

“The rule in our league is simple and straightforward: Medical decisions override everything else. There has been attention this week on the fact that three NFL quarterbacks sustained concussions last Sunday. The positive development was that all three were taken out of the game as soon as they showed symptoms. The team medical staff then diagnosed a concussion, and each player was out of the game. That is progress. That is the way it should be in all sports at every level.”

Predisposition to Concussion

“We may learn through breakthroughs in science that there are genetic or other factors that make certain individuals predisposed to concussions or brain disease. If an athlete has repeated concussions or takes longer to recover, it may signal a problem unique to that individual. Such individuals will benefit from advances in the science of concussion. They will be able to make more informed decisions about whether to accept the risk of playing a contact sport.”

New Idea I

“We may see a day when there are different helmets for different positions, based on which helmet can best protect players at their position.”

New Idea II

“Here’s an idea I’ve heard from an NFL head coach: put a weight limit on players for kickoffs. Smaller players against smaller players would mean less severe collisions.”

The Role of Technology

“Technology is also helping us. Recent developments include new protocols, certified athletic trainers in press boxes to serve as spotters for team medical staffs, and the use of iPads and cell phones by medical staffs on the sidelines. We allow this technology for medical reasons, but not for competitive purposes. We are testing accelerometers in helmets. They are sensors that determine the impact of a hit. We are also testing sensors in shoulder pads which could provide important information. The most significant innovation may be the use of video by medical staffs on the sidelines to evaluate the mechanism of injury. We started it late last season and now use it for every game. It allows team doctors and trainers to more quickly understand and better treat an injury. Our team medical staffs are raving about it.”

Changing the Culture

“The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than player safety mentality.  Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.

I was recently at dinner with family friends. Their 15-year-old daughter plays field hockey and told me how during a recent game she hit her head on the turf and blacked out for a moment.  She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to come out. The next day she was diagnosed with a concussion. It’s the warrior mentality – in a 15-year-old girl. This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience, and determination.”

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