Chiefs, Army leaders discuss head injuries

Former Kansas City Chiefs players and Army leaders said
Wednesday that a change in culture about the risks of concussions
must start at the top levels in sports and the military.

The comments came during a forum at Fort Leavenworth on
traumatic brain injuries, the sixth in a series of such events to
bring awareness to concussions and brain injuries. Several dozen
Army officers listened to the discussion, including comments by Pro
Football Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier, who said he learned
the lessons early.

Lanier, who played from 1967 through 1977, serves on an NFL
player safety panel studying ways to make the game safer. Lanier
suffered numerous concussions in his rookie season, including one
that didn’t manifest until a week later. Lanier says he changed his
playing technique as a result, but only after he sought answers to
his injury at the Mayo Clinic.

”It wasn’t hard for me to do. I figured out I had to change the
way I play the game or I don’t play,” Lanier said. ”It just
becomes practical that if you’re going to do it, you better do it
smart. Because if you don’t do it smart you have all types of
potential risks that you really shouldn’t take.”

The military has been looking at the impact of traumatic brain
injuries as soldiers return from combat. The Army and NFL signed a
joint letter in August announcing the partnership.

The NFL faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say
the league withheld information on the harmful effects concussions
can have on their health.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday in Detroit that the
partnership with the Army is about sharing what is known about head
injuries and protocols for clearing soldiers and players to return
to action, whether it be the battlefield or playing field. A
portion of the program is changing the culture and the soldier and
player frame of mind.

”It’s about trying to combat the warrior mentality, which is
you want to be on the battlefield or what you want to be on the
field, but you need to be healthy and you need to identify yourself
when you have an injury,” Goodell said.

He said the NFL is stressing that players take precautions to
identify when they or others may have had an injury that needs
proper medical care.

”I think that’s what hopefully our partnership with the Army is
going to help do for our soldiers and our players,” Goodell
said.

Lt. Gen. David Perkins, commander of the Combined Arms Center
and Fort Leavenworth, said the military is learning to take brain
injuries serious as soldiers see repeated concussions and head
injuries from combat and training.

”Used to be a time when you had an event like that, here are
the smelling salts, shake it off and go on. We didn’t know what we
didn’t know,” Perkins said.

Col. Emery Fehl, commander of Munson Army Health Center, said
that 253,330 service members have had a traumatic brain injury, but
that 84 percent happened inside the United States, either during
training, falls, sporting events or other activity.

”This is not a one-time war issue that once we draw down from
Afghanistan we won’t be talking about this,” Fehl said. ”We will
be talking about this for a long time.”

He said new protocols issued in September require soldiers who
have a concussion to be pulled off the line for at least 24 hours
and given medical clearance before returning. Subsequent
concussions require longer time away from duty before being
cleared.

Former Chiefs player Danan Hughes said players share the same
mentality as soldiers that there is a duty to be on the field and
that no one who replaces them will do as well. As such, he said,
players do all they can to hide any effects, shake off symptoms and
get back in the game.

He encouraged the Chiefs and the rest of the NFL to create
centers near cities where teams are located so that retired players
would have access to practitioners who could check them for signs
and symptoms of traumatic brain injury. He cited the deaths of
Junior Seau and Dave Duerson as examples of former players who may
have benefited from such facilities.

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AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Dave Skretta in
Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.