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NFL concussion panel co-chairs quit; league to hire independent experts

Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a wide-ranging memo about concussions to NFL teams Tuesday, saying the co-chairmen of the league's committee on brain injuries have resigned and that he is examining potential rule changes "to reduce head impacts."

A copy of the memo was obtained by The Associated Press before the league issued a press release about its contents.

Goodell's memo

   The league issued a press release with the points that Commissioner Goodell made concerning concussions in his Tuesday memo to NFL teams. 
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Goodell wrote that Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano, who have led the league committee on concussions since 2007, "have graciously offered to resign from those positions and to continue to assist the committee in its important work. We have accepted those resignations and are currently identifying their replacements."

Goodell said he wants to add new members "who will bring to the committee independent sources of expertise and experience in the field of head injuries."

Casson recently has come under attack from the NFL Players Association and members of Congress for criticizing independent and league-sponsored studies linking NFL careers with heightened risk for dementia and cognitive decline.

A message was left for Casson at his office.

"This is a step in the right direction," NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "We look forward to working with the league to formalize their announcements."

Goodell also said that he met with competition committee co-chair Rich McKay on Monday to review specific types of plays with an eye to evaluating possible rules changes "to reduce head impacts and related injuries in a game setting."

Among the other points addressed in the memo, which was addressed to chief executives, team presidents, general managers, head coaches, team physicians and head athletic trainers:

» Goodell wrote that the NFL will "continue to invest in research designed to improve equipment safety, and we will urge players to make informed choices regarding the use of the most technologically advanced helmets."

» Goodell noted that former NFL coach and TV analyst John Madden is leading a panel of coaches looking into reducing concussion risk outside of games. Among the possibilities under discussion: reducing offseason work, limiting helmet use and contact in practice, mini-camps and training camps.

» The league will hold a conference on concussions in Washington in June; team medical personnel "will be required to attend."

» A public service message developed by the NFL and Centers for Disease Control "directed primarily at young athletes and their parents and coaches on the importance of head injury awareness" will debut next month.

"Our game today is played with the understanding that medical decisions must always take priority over competitive interests. As a result, our sport has become safer for those who play it," Goodell wrote. "However, and particularly when player health and safety is involved, we always strive to do better."

Goodell publicly has been increasing his focus on concussions as the issue has drawn more attention this season, including at a congressional hearing in October.

Casson didn't appear on Capitol Hill that day, and some House members complained when he didn't testify. During the hearing, Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat, played a clip of a TV interview in which Casson denied evidence of a link between multiple head injuries in NFL players with brain disorders. Sanchez said that reminded her of tobacco companies denying a link between smoking and disease.

During interviews with 160 NFL players conducted by The Associated Press from Nov. 2-15, 30 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion. Half said they have sustained at least one concussion playing football.

High-profile running backs such as Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles and Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins have missed games in recent weeks because of head injuries. Last Sunday, the two starting quarterbacks from last season's Super Bowl -- Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals -- left their teams' games after taking blows to the head.

"I expect to advise you in the near future of additional steps that we have identified, both through our own work and in conjunction with outside experts and the NFLPA. These include new medical guidelines and research directed at the issue of long-term effects of concussions," Goodell wrote. "Our goal remains to make our game as safe as possible, to protect the health and safety of our players, and to set the best possible example for players at all levels and in all sports."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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