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.