With the NFL’s concussion liability regarding retired players on the way to being extinguished via settlement, the league can now focus on taking additional steps to limit liability to its current and future players.
After months of delay, the NFL could soon be putting sensors in helmets.
“Our goal is that by midseason we will have some teams geared up,” Kevin Guskiewicz, a University of North Carolina researcher and a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, said at a Wednesday event in Baltimore, via USA Today. “We’re getting close, and I think that we have some teams identified.”
The NFL previously had been chasing its tail regarding helmet sensors, with the league referring questions from ESPN regarding the league’s failure to use helmet sensors to Guskiewicz, who was publicly advocating the use of helmet sensors.
Guskiewicz spoke openly in June 2012 about giving up on the effort to use sensors if the sensors weren’t used within the coming year. At that same time, former Steelers receiver and current NBC analyst Hines Ward expressed concern about the approach.
“You’re gonna open up a while Pandora’s Box with it,” Ward told ESPN. “For a doctor to read a computer and tell me how hard I’ve been hit and to pull me out of a game, that won’t sit well with a lot of players.”
It won’t, because many players want to try to persuade the coaching staff that they haven’t suffered concussions, even if they have. Helmet sensors will give teams objective evidence to refute a player’s effort to avoid being yanked from play.
With the concussion litigation brought by former players tentatively resolved, the league can now focus on making the kind of improvements that would have been used against the NFL by those suing the league. Although so-called “subsequent remedial measures” (i.e., steps taken to rectify a problem that caused an injury) technically aren’t permitted to be used in court, skilled lawyers have a way of skirting that rule and wedging into evidence at trial things the defendant did after the fact that could/should have been done earlier.
Indeed, the NFL also has now launched a $10 million incentive program that will reward those who come up with improved shock absorbent materials for helmets and other technologies to protect players from concussions.
It may be a coincidence that this program first emerged after the settlement was announced. Or it may not be a coincidence.
Either way, the NFL is showing a new willingness to embrace technology as a way to address the problem of concussions. Regardless of the reason or the time, it’s good that the league is taking these steps.