NFL’s new concussion efforts are important, even if there’s a P.R. component to them


At some point in the past few months, someone who gets paid plenty of money to pick the best time to make announcements decided that the hump day between Week One and Week Two of the NFL regular season would be the best day to unveil the league’s new $100 million plan to improve safety equipment and to support medical research regarding head injuries. Likewise, someone who gets paid plenty of money to pick the best words for making announcements decided to do it through a letter written by the Commissioner (or at least signed by him) and posted at a dedicated website, a move the league may have learned from the Patriots.

Although the NFL gets sensitive at times about the use of P.R. techniques (such as the Friday afternoon bad news dump), why wouldn’t a $13 billion enterprise choose to disseminate information about itself in a way that’s intended to maximize the positive and to minimize the negative?

Minimizing the negative has become a major goal for the NFL since October 2009, when a Congressional committee conducted a hearing that persuaded the NFL to take immediate steps to address the concussion problem. Since then, plenty of changes have been made, from the procedures used to spot concussions to the procedures used to treat concussions to the procedures used to determine when a player can return from a concussion to efforts to reduce concussions. The new initiative (called “Play Smart. Play Safe.”) is aimed specifically at advancing these goals.

Does it seem like window dressing, only six days after the league engaged in minimal dressing down of Denver players who treated the season-opening game as if it was open season on Cam Newton, of officials who failed to keep it from happening, and of anyone involved in the failure to get Newton off the field for a concussion evaluation? Sure. But that doesn’t making the effort any less worthwhile.

Much of the money will be used to incentivize private business interests to develop safer equipment, with new helmets materials and construction being one of the focal points. The NFL wants to have better helmets within the next three-to-five years, with the possibility of helmets specific to each position on the field.

“[W]e know from tracking game and injury data that linemen experience different impacts than a wide receiver or a defensive back,” Goodell writes. “Yet their protective equipment is the same. We want engineers to use that information to consider design changes that address the specific needs of each position.”

Other potential advancements include the use of better cushioning for turf fields and the development of a blood test that can diagnose a concussion on the spot, which would become a lot more reliable that the currently subjective process of assessing symptoms.

In the same way that the PED stigma stuck only to baseball, concussions cloud football more than any other sport — even though plenty of other sports and activities can result in brain trauma. Instead of complaining about the reality that concussions are regarded as a football problem only, the NFL seems to be embracing its responsibility to spearhead advancements that could benefit other sports as well.

Still, other efforts are needed. The real-time and after-the-fact reaction by the NFL to the assault on Cam Newton highlighted major flaws in officiating, player discipline, and the concussion protocol. Unless real steps are taken to improve these dynamics on the front line of the concussion crisis, public confidence in the ability of professional football to diagnose and treat its biggest malady will continue to be low.

12 responses to “NFL’s new concussion efforts are important, even if there’s a P.R. component to them

  1. I’m tired of this being treated as if it’s some hugely complicated issue that only lots of money can solve. The problems are obvious and could be solved with minimal cost. Problem is, the NFL doesn’t like the solutions:

    1. You suspend or ban guys who headhunt. Obvious but isn’t happening now because that would take star players out of the game.

    2. You sit guys who have taken hard shots to the head. Rarely happens now because it would take stars out of the game.

    3. You get rid of the weapons that cause many concussions by minimizing (or outright eliminating) helmets and shoulder pads in the same way rugby is played. Doesn’t happen because the NFL fears it would make the sport less popular and would open them up to lawsuits about why they hadn’t done it sooner.

  2. There needs to be a soft outer shell. It is obvious that the NFL is opposed to this for reasons that compromise player safety.

    Soft outer shell will absorb more of the impact and not pass it all on to the brain.

  3. No, it is not worthwhile. That $100 million will be spread among companies that are are owned by NFL owners, businesses that are NFL cronies, and “doctors” bought by the NFL.

    What would be worthwhile would be putting the $100 million in a fund for brain injured players.

  4. Sorry, but it’s football. Lots of less paying jobs have significant health hazards, but they dont get paid millions to do it.

    These players should just choose to accept the risk and play, or go sell used cars somewhere. We can’t put them in tutu’s and ask them to play football.

    And the players speak out of both sides of their a**. During the game, they will do everything they can to manipulate the situation and stay in the game. Then afterwards and in the offseason they’ll complain that the NFL doesn’t care about player safety. A lot of this falls on the players too. They know the risks but still try staying out there. They want to have it both ways. They want to play in the moment, and then complain about it afterwards. They want their cake and eat it too.

  5. “There needs to be a soft outer shell.”

    This was the science behind that helmet Mark Kelso of the Bills was famous for wearing back in the 90s. The NFL hated it because it looked funny. And there you run into the whole problem of the NFL trying to solve these sorts of problems: Anything and everything comes ahead of player safety.

    There is some promise to that technology but there are drawbacks. Ideally you’d want to take away the fearless attitude that leads guys to using their heads as battering rams but taking a regular helmet and putting a soft pad on the outside doesn’t do that. Also, most safety items designed to absorb impact are disposable. Think how bicycle helmets work and how the crumple zones on cars are designed to function. Most work on football helmets has centered on making them as indestructible as possible when that’s exactly the opposite of what you really need.

  6. The NFL just fined a player $24,000 for a late head shot where he left his feet to spear/lead with the helmet straight to a QB’s head.

    The NFL really doesn’t care about fixing this. They care about looking ok. Most people see right through their smoke…

  7. They could likely cut concussions in half if they started ejecting players for headhunting.

    Screw fantasy football.

  8. I love how this whole issue gets dumped on the NFL’s plate, and nothing they do is good enough. “The NFL doesn’t care about fixing this”. “The NFL doesn’t care about the players”. Last time I checked it wasn’t members of the league office going on the field and trying to drive the crown of their helmets through another players ear hole. Perhaps the NFLPA should put up a 100 million dollars of its own money because the league is so inept at fixing this problem. I mean they clearly care so much more about player health.

  9. cardinealsfan20 says:
    Sep 14, 2016 12:30 PM

    No, it is not worthwhile. That $100 million will be spread among companies that are owned by NFL owners, businesses that are NFL cronies, and “doctors” bought by the NFL.
    Sadly, I agree. This money will be funneled to people and companies sympathetic to the owners.

    This stuff can be fixed if the parties involved really wanted it to be fixed. Less than 1 year after Dale Earnhardt was killed, the SAFER barrier was being installed at NASCAR tracks. No one has been killed in the top 3 levels of stock car racing since then, and the only significant head injury is Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing most of this season with a concussion.

  10. $40M of that money is earmarked for medical research.
    Wasn’t all that long ago a congressional investigation found the league guilty of trying to influence an NIH study by pulling back promised funding in order to control the direction of the research and keep one of the nation’s preeminent CTE research doctors from taking part. Don’t kid yourselves, that probably had far more to do with the dedicated website and low key announcement than anything else.

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