Union’s concussion committee talks about 18 games

The medical director for the NFL players’ union says there could

be about 250,000 additional plays – and therefore extra collisions

and extra injuries – in the regular season if the league moves to

an 18-game schedule.

”It’s hard for me, as a physician advising the players, to say,

‘You’re not going to have more injuries, including concussions,

with a quarter of a million more snaps,”’ said Dr. Thom Mayer,

co-chairman of the Mackey-White Traumatic Brain Injury Committee,

which met Tuesday at the union’s headquarters.

The league has made increasing the regular-season schedule from

16 games to 18 a centerpiece of its negotiations with the union for

a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires in

March, and the union has said it expects the owners to lock out the

players.

”I’ve been consistent and vehement that if we’re going to

increase the games – or even if we’re going to keep them the same –

if we have any hope of influencing the frequency (of collisions),

it’s got to come in practices. It’s got to come in two-a-days. It’s

got to come in OTAs,” Mayer said.

Mayer’s committee co-chairman, former NFL player Sean Morey,

said that when he discusses the possibility of a longer regular

season with current players, ”You can just see they’re

deflated.”

”It seems to me that increasing the exposure to head trauma is

sort of counterintuitive to addressing this issue,” Morey said.

”Personally, I feel like you have to consider the law of

diminished return, where the quality of the game might diminish

because there’s a lot of players playing longer; they might be

playing injured; star players that might be on the sideline don’t

get to finish their season.”

According to NFL data obtained by The Associated Press, the

number of concussions being reported this season is up more than 20

percent from 2009, and more than 30 percent from 2008.

The union committee’s meeting comes a week after the NFL’s head,

neck and spine medical committee gathered for two days in New York.

Many of the topics covered by the league’s panel were addressed by

the union, and Mayer said they are working in concert on a number

of areas.

”There’s a new and very welcome spirit of participation and, as

(Commissioner Roger Goodell) often says, transparency,” Mayer

said. ”The two groups understand there is a common purpose.”

The union committee spoke about possible updates to the NFL’s

return-to-play guidelines for when players get concussions; whether

there should be changes to the minimum qualifications for each

team’s independent neurologist; and when those consultants should

be seeing players who have head injuries.

Robert Stern, a director of a Boston University center studying

brain disease in former athletes, is a member of the union

committee and participated in the league panel’s meetings last

week.

”That’s the only way we’re going to move forward – with

everyone on the same page,” Stern said.