Goodell addresses head trauma meeting
The evolution of the NFL’s stance toward concussions led commissioner Roger Goodell to address the Congress of Neurological Surgeons annual conference on Monday where about 2,000 people heard about league’s efforts to curb brain injuries.
Goodell said afterward that he thinks the players — who have been increasingly fined for dangerous head-on collisions — already got the message.
“What I see when I look at the game is that players are playing the game differently,” Goodell said. “They are using their shoulders. They aren’t using their head. I think they are having the same impact tackling or separating (the opponent) from the ball. You are always going to have some who go outside the rules, but they know we’re watching.”
Goodell said during his speech that the league is committed to spending $100 million over the next 10 years to study brain injuries. A large chunk of that could go to a wide-ranging study of incoming as well as former players.
“We want to find the true incidence of long-term (health issues) from playing football,” said Mitchel Berger, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at UC San Francisco and member of an NFL subcommittee on brain and spine injury. “This is something we really want to see if there are any long-term effects.”
There are two parts of this study, which will be submitted to the NFL and the NFL Players Association in the coming weeks. Rookies, possibly as soon as the 2012 season, will be given baseline mental acuity tests and their blood will be analyzed for a specific gene that has been found in athletes who are more susceptible to concussions. (A player’s DNA won’t be analyzed until the player’s career has concluded to protect his privacy rights.) Those players will then be evaluated periodically throughout their careers.
Former NFL players will be randomly selected and studied as well under the proposal. The goal is to create a massive database.
“With the database, we might be able to tell an individual player with a certain genetic makeup that if he plays this position he has “X” risk of long-term neurological complications,” said Robert Harbaugh, a neurosurgeon from Hershey, Pa., who would oversee the database. “That’s going to vary from player to player. There is a lot of work to do to put some real science behind this.”
Several former NFL players have been found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder that can lead to depression and mimics amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). CTE, however, can only be found when the brain is studied post mortem.
“Not every player who passes away has had their brain assessed,” Berger said. “It’s a very, very small number who have been assessed.”
Harbaugh called the discovery of CTE — pioneered by the research at the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University’s School of Medicine — in football players “anecdotal.”
The NFL Players Association must give their consent for the study, which neither Harbaugh nor Berger said should be an issue since they meet regularly with NFLPA reps.
Beyond the proposed database, Goodell said the league continues to study other topics related to head injuries, including:
Goodell said players have been resistant in the past when it comes to equipment mandates and the NFLPA has taken a similar stance to testing for human growth hormone. The NFLPA, which agreed to the HGH blood test as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, has held up implementation of the test citing concerns about the screening’s efficacy.
“It’s written in the CBA,” Goodell said. “We are committed to do it in the regular season. It’s very clear we are committed to doing it.”
A congressional subcommittee asked to meet with Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith over the failure to implement HGH testing. Goodell said the meeting will likely occur over the next two weeks.