NFL teams with US Army for concussion program

The NFL and U.S. Army have teamed up on a long-term program to

care for and prevent concussions and head trauma, as well as other

health issues.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and General Raymond T. Odierno, the

Army Chief of Staff, announced the initiative at the U.S. Military

Academy on Thursday.

Goodell and Odierno cited the common traits between soldiers and

football players, particularly when dealing with stressful

situations that can lead to injury.

”We can bring greater awareness not just to our two

organizations, but to the general public,” Goodell said of the

program. ”We will do all we can to get our players and the

soldiers to under what each other goes through. We’ll work to

change our cultures by working closely together.”

Changing the culture is the biggest test, Goodell and Odierno

said during a panel discussion on safety before nearly 200 cadets.

Odierno even admitted he would have struggled to take himself out

of combat with a non-visible injury such as a concussion. But he

recognizes the need for leaders who will overrule the injured

person.

”That is our most difficult challenge,” Odierno said. ”We all

base ourselves on the warrior ethos and the soldiers’ creed as

soldiers. If you have a problem and you identify it, to me that is

courageous, too. But self-selection is really difficult. There has

to be a bond to take care of each other.”

Goodell echoed that approach.

”We understand the risk involved when you play any sport and we

want people to share the responsibility,” Goodell said. ”It’s not

just the player injured who has to raise his hand. It’s the

coaches, his teammates.”

The league is being particularly proactive in the head trauma

diagnosis and treatment area after dozens of lawsuits against it

were consolidated into one massive complaint involving more than

2,400 people, most of them former players. By joining with the

military, it hopes to ”integrate the uncompromising devotion to

win with a need to address traumatic brain injuries with the

necessary care, consideration and commitment to prevention that

these injuries require,” Goodell and Odierno said in a letter sent

to soldiers and current and former NFL players.

Also on hand were former players Troy Vincent, now the NFL’s

vice president of player engagement, and Bart Oates. Both said they

often were concussed while playing – Vincent seven times – and

Oates said he returned to action with a concussion.

”Would I try to stay in the game again? Absolutely,” he said,

noting that was – and often still is – the mentality of players.

”You can’t be expected to self-police yourself as a player. You

won that position, it’s your job, you are there to help the team

win and that is the most important thing. So individually, if you

are trying to police it, it can’t be fixed.”

To change that mindset, Oates insisted educating players at a

young age to what he wasn’t aware of about concussions when he was

growing up is essential.

Vincent believes the protocols and education on awareness of

head injuries within the NFL will work, but agreed with Oates that

athletes won’t self-regulate.

”There’s no such thing as making the right decision in the heat

of battle. You stay in the game to win,” Vincent said.

But Goodell explained that making the correct decision in the

end will prolong players’ careers. And that correct decision –

whether it involves taking yourself out of the game or someone else

forcing you to leave when you show signs of head trauma – will

become easier to make as everyone becomes more aware of the

symptoms.

The panel discussion was the third between the NFL and the

military, including one at the Pentagon. The new program guarantees

more interaction.

”A lot of attributes are quite alike between soldiers and NFL

players,” Odierno said. ”We’ve come together, two groups of

people who are dedicated and courageous, to see how we can help

both players and soldiers to deal with this important issue. With

nearly 1.1 million soldiers, we have a wide audience we have to

deal with. I think this (program) will help bring more awareness to

these issues.”