Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday notified clubs of several new developments to the NFL's ongoing work related to player health and safety in the area of concussions.
"We have undertaken a series of initiatives that will enhance the substantial progress we have made in recent years in concussion-related matters," said Commissioner Goodell in a memo to NFL clubs. "Our goal remains to make our game as safe as possible, protect the health and safety of our players, and set the best possible example for players at all levels and in all sports."
The memo listed steps the NFL has taken as well as some of the others that are under consideration on this issue:
First, the NFL is strengthening and expanding the membership of its medical committee that has studied the subject of concussions and overseen concussion-related research for the past 15 years. The current co-chairmen, Drs. Ira Casson and David Viano, have resigned from those positions and will continue to assist the committee. The NFL is currently identifying their replacements and additional members who will bring to the committee independent sources of expertise and experience in the field of head injuries.
"I appreciate the valuable contributions of Drs. Casson and Viano and their commitment to the committee and to NFL players," said Commissioner Goodell.
Second, each club is identifying local neurosurgeons or neurologists who will be available to provide an independent "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 doctor and the independent neurologist or neurosurgeon. The NFL and the NFL Players Association medical advisor are reviewing the expertise and qualifications of, and approve, each doctor proposed for this role.
Third, 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. Commissioner Goodell met yesterday with Committee co-chair Rich McKay and reviewed specific types of plays for that purpose.
Fourth, John Madden, in his role as special advisor to the Commissioner, is chairing a committee of coaches that is exploring ways of providing players with a safer environment that would reduce the risk of head trauma on non-game days. Among the considerations are reducing the overall amount of offseason work, and/or limiting the use of helmets (and therefore contact) in practice, minicamps, OTAs, and training camps. Madden's group will report its recommendations to the Competition Committee and Commissioner Goodell.
Fifth, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the league has developed an NFL public service message directed primarily at young athletes and their parents and coaches on the importance of head injury awareness. It will debut on the air on Dec. 10. 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 an overall certification program for coaches at those levels addressing player health and safety.
Sixth, as part of its continuing educational effort, the NFL will hold another medical conference in Washington, D.C., in June 2010 on concussions for team medical staffs and representatives of the NFLPA, similar to the conference that took place in Chicago in 2007. The NFL will again invite leading doctors and scientists to present the most current information regarding this injury. Club medical personnel will be required to attend.
Seventh, the NFL will continue to invest in research designed to improve equipment safety and will urge players to make informed choices regarding the use of the most technologically advanced helmets.
Commissioner Goodell told the clubs that these developments are the latest in a series of steps in recent years that have improved player safety, especially relating to concussions and other head injuries. He said he expects to advise them in the near future of additional steps that he has identified. These steps include new medical guidelines and research directed at the issue of long-term effects of concussions.
"Our game today is played with the understanding that medical decisions must always take priority over competitive interests," added Commissioner Goodell. "As a result, our sport is safer than it was previously. But we always strive to do better and the steps announced today will enhance the substantial progress we have made in recent years."