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NFL reveals developments in efforts to research head-trauma effects

  • By National Football League
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On Monday, the NFL announced additional important developments in its ongoing work related to player health and safety in the area of concussions.

The NFL has confirmed its partnership with the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to research the long-term effects of head trauma in athletes. The league through the NFL Alumni Association is encouraging current and former NFL players to agree to donate their brains to the Center to assist its research efforts.

The NFL is committed to providing $1 million or more for independent research projects that will be identified by the Center.

The NFL is continuing to strengthen and expand the membership of its medical committee on concussions, formed in 1994, that has initiated research and advised the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management over the past 15 years. Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist at the University of Michigan and chairman of the sports section of the American Academy of Neurology, has accepted an invitation to join the NFL MTBI Committee. Former NFL player Merril Hoge, who testified at the Oct. 28 congressional hearing on head injuries in football, has also been appointed to the committee. The NFL is currently interviewing candidates for the new chair of the committee and expects to select the committee's new leadership by the end of January.

The NFL also has invested in ongoing research designed to provide more independently validated information on the protective qualities of helmets used by NFL players and to help NFL players make informed choices regarding the helmets they wear, regardless of the manufacturer. The NFL's medical committee on concussions engaged two independent laboratories -- Southern Impact in Tennessee and Biokinetics in Ottawa, Canada -- to conduct a wide-range of tests of helmets made by all leading manufacturers to learn how helmets used by NFL players respond under different types of impacts that can occur during a game.

The committee launched this project a year ago, including plans to have the research reviewed by independent experts. After a two-month search process, the NFL has confirmed those two independent experts are: Dr. David Meaney, University of Pennsylvania, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Department of Bioengineering and Dr. Barry S. Myers, Duke University, Pratt School of Engineering, Department of Biomedical Engineering.

These specialists bring independent expertise and experience in the field of head injuries to help ensure the validity of this continuing research project. In addition to reviewing the preliminary data, they will make recommendations on additional testing of the helmets that could contribute to the project and be useful to manufacturers and NFL players.

These are the latest in a series of steps the NFL has taken over the past 15 years to address player safety with respect to concussions. Other recent steps include:

» As part of its continuing educational effort, the NFL will hold its third medical conference on concussions next June. It will be hosted by Johns Hopkins University and held in Washington, D.C. Attendees will include NFL team medical staffs and representatives of the NFLPA. The first such NFL conference took place in 1997 in New York and Arizona with the second conference in Chicago in June of 2007. The NFL will again invite leading physicians and scientists to present the most current information regarding this injury. Club medical personnel will be required to attend.

» A new and expanded statement on the NFL's 2007 return-to-play guidelines for a player who sustains a concussion. The 2009 statement says that a player who suffers a concussion should not return to play or practice on the same day if any concussion symptoms are identified based on the initial medical evaluation of the player. Once he is removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant.

» Each club has identified local independent neurological specialists to provide "second opinion" in cases involving players who have had a concussion and been removed from a game or practice. Before these players return to practice or play, they must be evaluated and cleared by both their team physician and the independent neurological consultant. The NFL and the NFL Players Association medical advisor reviewed the expertise and qualifications of, and approved, each doctor proposed for this role.

» Members of the NFL Competition Committee are continuing to evaluate potential changes in playing rules that are intended to reduce head impacts and related injuries in a game setting. In addition, John Madden, in his new role as special advisor to the Commissioner, is chairing a committee of coaches that has been exploring ways of providing players with a safer environment that would reduce the risk of head trauma on non-game days. Both the NFL Competition Committee and Madden's group will report to the Commissioner their recommendations this offseason.

» In conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the league developed an NFL public service message directed primarily at young athletes and their parents and coaches on the importance of head injury awareness. The message has been airing during NFL game telecasts. In addition, the league also is working with the CDC and other organizations to distribute educational material to young athletes and high school coaches, and to develop with USA Football an overall certification program for coaches at those levels addressing player health and safety.

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