NFL 2020: How will player health and safety change in future?

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

What will the NFL's player health and safety initiatives be like in seven years?

Could trainers carry portable brain scanners on the field? Would sideline doctors get real-time feedback when a player sustains a head injury during a practice or game?

During the seventh installment of the "NFL 2020" series, NFL Media examined how player health technology will be different during the 2020 season.

Dr. Gary Small, UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said treatments to combat the abnormal tau proteins in the brain could be a huge breakthrough for player health.

"If those pan out, that could apply to what's going on with the players," Small said, referring to concerns about head injuries prevalent among all levels of football. "If we have a strategy for detecting brain injuries before there's extensive brain damage, that's a much more efficient strategy than trying to repair damage in the brain once it becomes extensive.

"I could see in the not-too-distant future where we have portable brain scanners on the sidelines and take it out of the player's hands. Whether they want to hide something or not, we've got that scanner."

Another change could be an invention that measures the severity of concussion. One tech company thinks it has already done that with the Xpatch, which is adhered behind the ear and shows the severity of head hits on an iPad.

But it's not always about the force of hit, but the type of hit sustained by the player.

"It used to be believed that if you had an impact force of about 75Gs, that it necessarily would result in a concussion," said Ben Motz of Indiana University's department of psychology and brain sciences. "New research is showing that it's not so much the amount of force, but the type of force."

Added Sports Illustrated's Peter King: "By 2020, I would be shocked -- shocked -- if a player is playing in a game when he has gotten a concussion."

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