National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell re-emphasized his goal today to have all 50 states adopt youth-concussion laws “sooner rather than later.”
“We recognize that we have an opportunity to make a difference by taking the lead in encouraging health and safety awareness at all levels of football and in all youth sports,” Goodell said.
In front of an audience of more than 2,000 neurosurgeons at the 2011 Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Goodell spoke about how concussions have affected his league and the sport of football in general.
He led off his speech by saying that the NFL considers nothing more important than player safety, and that the “effective prevention, treatment, and diagnosis of concussions” was the league’s greatest player-safety issue currently.
But he made sure to remind the audience that concussions aren’t an issue exclusive to the NFL.
“Concussions are not just an NFL or sports issue,” said Goodell. “They are a public-health issue. ... Leadership and collaboration across all sports will be critical.”
During his speech, Goodell referenced the Lystedt Law, named after Zachary Lystedt, a former youth-football player in Washington state who nearly died after sustaining a concussion on the field. Goodell said Lystedt “has inspired me the most” of all coaches, parents, doctors, and student-athletes involved in youth sports.
As a result, the NFL has been urging all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) to adopt youth-concussion laws. Goodell noted that the diagnosis of concussions in youth sports has exploded over the past decade, increasing at a rate of 15 percent per year.
“No player in any sport should ever again ‘walk it off’ after a blow to the head,” he said.
“As we tell our medical staffs—when in doubt, sit them out. If there is any suspicion about a player being concussed, he should be removed from the game. Period. This is consistent with our policy that medical considerations must steer the ship and always override competitive concerns.”
Currently, 33 states and D.C., have passed youth-concussion laws. Nine other states have legislation pending.
Goodell also told the audience of neurosurgeons that in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, the NFL and the players’ union jointly agreed to spend $100 million over the next 10 years on medical research—"the vast majority” of which on research about brain injuries and concussions.
Culture Change Needed
After his address to the neurosurgeons, Goodell briefly spoke to a handful of reporters, alongside six doctors from the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee.
A few notes from that session:
• What does the commissioner think is necessary at the youth level to help prevent and properly treat concussions? Awareness and education, primarily, for coaches, parents, and players.
“So much in youth sports revolves around the coach—how the coach conducts practices, how the coach conducts specific games—so you want to make sure that they’re fully aware of the risks [of concussions],” Goodell said.
He also mentioned that NFL players are increasingly noticing concussion symptoms in each other, and they’re helping to report said symptoms to team doctors.
• Goodell said “everything is on the table” in terms of rule changes for the sake of player safety. He specifically mentioned the possibility of eliminating the 3-point stance—a point he made last year before the Super Bowl.
• Goodell believes that NFL players have made “tremendous progress,” in terms of changing the culture of the game to better protect themselves from concussions. For reference, he cited how more players will lead with their shoulders instead of their heads now when trying to make a tackle.
In his main speech, he noted that despite naysayers who claim that rule changes will kill the game, the NFL has never been safer or more popular— a true win-win situation.
• When asked why Michael Vick, the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles who recently sustained a concussion, wasn’t allowed to fit his helmet with Kevlar padding, Goodell replied, “There’s significant legal issues” when you start modifying a helmet.
“The helmet was designed to be worn a particular way,” he said.
That said, the NFL is working with helmet makers to develop helmets that will better protect players against concussions.
• Mouthpieces and chin straps are being studied as potential tools to help prevent concussions. At this point, research has not proved that mouthpieces are significantly linked to reducing concussions.
• And for you NFL enthusiasts up in arms about the new kickoff rules (kickoffs were moved up five yards this year for player-safety concerns), Goodell couldn’t say whether or not the rule change had led to less concussions on kickoffs, four weeks into this NFL season.
Instead, he warned reporters not to make snap judgments about kickoff concussion data until the league has gone through a full season with the new kickoff rules.
Photo: NFL football Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions from the media after speaking about concussions on Oct. 3 at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.