Skip to main content

NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee


The NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee is composed of independent and NFL-affiliated medical professionals and focuses on neurological issues relevant to the health and safety of active NFL players.


  • Advise the NFL on medical policies, procedures and protocols
  • Determine and advise the NFL on best practices
  • Identify and recommend medical research that impacts the health and safety of active
  • NFL players
  • Oversee research when requested by the NFL and its collaborators
  • Analyze injury data and propose interventions
  • Create and supervise focused research groups with specific goals and assignments (e.g. biomechanical engineering)
  • Improve public education and advocate for enhanced sports safety

Areas of Focus


  • Diagnosis
  • Prevention
  • Treatment

Moderate and Severe Brain Injury

  • Diagnosis
  • Prevention
  • Treatment

Neck and Spine

  • Diagnosis
  • Prevention
  • Treatment



Dr. Nicholas Theodore (Chairman, Head, Neck and Spine Committee)

Dr. Nicholas Theodore is the Donlin M. Long Professor of Neurosurgery, Orthopaedics and Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Until June 2016, he was the Volker K. H. Sonntag Endowed Chair and Chief of the Spine Section in the Division of Neurological Surgery at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. During this time he was also the team neurosurgeon for the Arizona Cardinals as well as a consultant to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Coyotes. He graduated from Cornell University, where he was the recipient of a Cornell Tradition Academic Fellowship. He attended medical school at Georgetown University, where he graduated with honors. After completing his internship at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Dr. Theodore served as a Senior General Medical Officer with the United States Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan. Dr. Theodore completed his neurosurgical residency and fellowship in spinal surgery at the Barrow Neurological Institute. After completing his residency in 2001, Dr. Theodore served as Chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at Naval Medical Center San Diego, overseeing the largest neurosurgery complement in the Navy. In 2003 he rejoined the faculty at Barrow Neurological Institute and remained there until he was recruited to become the Director of the Neurosurgical Spine Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is the author of over 200 scientific publications and the recipient of many research awards including the Mayfield and Tasker Awards as well as being awarded a prestigious RO-1 grant by the National Institutes of Health. He was recently awarded a DOD grant for the study of a novel therapy for acute spinal cord injury. Dr. Theodore's area of focus includes brain and spinal cord injury, minimally invasive surgery, and robotics. In 2014 he sold Excelsius Surgical, a robotics company that he co-founded with Dr. Neil Crawford to Globus Medical. The device received FDA clearance in August 2017 and is now in clinical use. Dr. Theodore is a Diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgery, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery. He has been heavily involved in injury prevention and worked on the development of Barrow Brainbook, a statewide concussion education program in Arizona. In addition, he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors at ThinkFirst, an international injury prevention organization.


Dr. Javier Cárdenas (Vice Chairman, Head, Neck and Spine Committee)

Dr. Javier Cárdenas is the director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center, an interdisciplinary clinic that is nationally recognized for comprehensive patient care. Since 2009, the Center has treated thousands of individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury due to sports, accidents, and domestic violence. He is also the director of the Barrow Concussion Network, the most comprehensive statewide concussion education, prevention, and treatment program in the United States. Dr. Cárdenas provides sideline concussion coverage for Arizona State University and the National Football League. He serves on the NFL's Head, Neck & Spine Committee, the Sport Medical Advisory Committee of the National Federation of High Schools, is chair of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Sport Medical Advisory Committee, and chair of the Arizona Governor's Council on Spinal and Head Injuries. He was awarded Arizona State University's Young Alumni award in 2014, the 2015 American Academy of Neurology Advocate Year, and the 2016 Chicanos por la Causa Cause for a Change award for his work in concussion prevention. Dr. Cárdenas is committed to the care, treatment, and prevention of traumatic brain and spinal cord injury in children and adolescents. Dr. Cárdenas graduated from Arizona State University with highest honors and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education. As a special education teacher, he instructed children with traumatic brain injury and developmental disabilities. For 16 years, he volunteered for Special Olympics in Arizona. His background in special education and long history of volunteerism has guided his career, leading him to the field of child neurology. He graduated from the University of Arizona, College of Medicine with honors in Neurology. He completed a residency in pediatrics at St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, where he was recognized for his outstanding care of infants and children. Dr. Cárdenas trained in the Department of Child Neurology at Barrow Neurological Institute where he received awards for academic presentations and leadership.


Dr. Odette Harris

Dr. Odette Harris is a Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, Vice Chair, Diversity and Director of Brain Injury for Stanford Medical Center. Dr Harris manages and coordinates the medical and surgical care of all patients suffering from traumatic brain injury that are admitted to the Stanford System. She focuses on implementing and streamlining current treatment algorithms aimed at improving the outcomes of this growing population. She is the Deputy Chief of Staff, Rehabilitation at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, which includes responsibilities for the varied programs of the Polytrauma System of Care, Spinal Cord Injury, Blind Rehabilitation Services, Recreational Therapy and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The programs hold regional and national oversight, as part of a national infrastructure. Dr. Harris is also the Site Director and Principal Investigator of the Defense Veterans and Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). The Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System is one of VA DVBIC Education sites. The primary focus of DVBIC is TBI specific evaluation, treatment and follow-up care for all military personnel, veterans and their dependents. Dr. Harris graduated from Dartmouth College and received her MD degree from Stanford University School of Medicine. She received numerous academic and research awards at both institutions. She did her internship and residency at Stanford University Medical Center Stanford, California. She also earned a Master of Public Health, Epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley. Upon completing her neurosurgical residency, Dr. Harris was awarded the William VanWagenen Fellowship from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. She completed her research related to this fellowship at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica where she also serves as Visiting Consultant in Neurosurgery. Dr. Harris has authored several scientific articles and books, is a member of several Editorial Boards and National Committees including as the Associate Editor for Neurosurgery and as an appointed Member, National Football League (NFL) Head, Neck and Spine Committee. She also serves on several Boards including the Palo Alto Veterans Institute for Research (PAVIR) and Defense Health Board's (DHB) Trauma and Injury Subcommittee. She has won numerous academic, research and humanitarian awards including the Congress of Neurological Surgeons Clinical Fellowship Award, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Spinal Cord/Spinal Column Injury Award and the Western Neurosurgical Society Resident Award. Her research efforts have also been recognized by the government of Jamaica; where she was awarded the National Road Safety Council Award for outstanding contribution in traumatic brain injury. She was recognized in 2019 by Forbes and Ebony Magazine Power 100 List Award as one of 100 most influential African Americans and received the National Medical Fellowships (NMF) Award for Excellence in Academic Medicine. Dr. Harris is a Trustee of Dartmouth College, the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula and the Castilleja School. She is a Fellow of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Dr. Harris was appointed a Fellow of the Aspen Global Leadership Network in 2018.

Senior Advisors


Dr. Robert Cantu

Dr. Robert Cantu is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Clinical Diagnostics and Therapeutics Leader AD and CTE Center, at the Boston University School of Medicine, and Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research, Dr. Robert C. Cantu Concussion Center, Emerson Hospital. He has authored over 400 scientific publications, including 32 books on neurology and sports medicine, in addition to numerous book chapters, peer-reviewed papers, abstracts and free communications, and educational videos. He is section editor for World Neurosurgery and he has served as associate editor of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Science Review, and on the editorial board of The Physician and Sports Medicine, Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, and Journal of Athletic Training. Dr. Cantu serves as Senior Advisor to the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee; Section Co-Chair Mackey-White National Football League Players Association Traumatic Brain Injury Committee; Founder and Medical Director Concussion Legacy Foundation (previously SLI); International Rugby Board Concussion Advisory Group; Adjunct Professor Exercise and Sport Science and Medical Director National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC; Co-Director, Neurologic Sports Injury Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Senior Advisor Brain Injury Center and Adjunct Staff, Children's Hospital, Boston; Vice President Chair Scientific Advisory Committee National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE); Chief of Neurosurgery Service, Associate Chairman Department of Surgery, and Director of Sports Medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts. He also consults with numerous NFL, NHL and NBA teams.


Dr. Joseph Maroon

Dr. Joseph C. Maroon is Professor and Vice Chairman, Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience at the Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He is a board certified clinical professor of neurosurgery. His clinical and research interests have been in the development of minimally invasive surgical procedures for the brain and spine, the prevention and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and complimentary approaches to inflammatory diseases associated with aging. He co-developed ImPACT™, the first neurocognitive computerized system used to asses concussion severity and assist with timing for return to contact sports. It is the only FDA approved test for concussion evaluation (2016). Dr. Maroon has been the neurosurgical consultant for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 34 years. He has been a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee since 2007. Dr. Maroon is past- president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Honored as one of America's Best Neurosurgeons annually, he has published five books, has written over 280 peer-reviewed papers and 54 book chapters. Despite his busy professional schedule he has competed in over 80 triathlon events. These include 8 ironman distance triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) in Hawaii (1993, 2003, 2008, 2010 and 2013), Canada (1995), New Zealand (1997) and Europe (2000). In 2016 he was ranked 4th in his age group nationally. He was inducted into the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame, with Joe Montana and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, for his athletic accomplishments and contributions to sports medicine. In 2010 he was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in Chicago. As medical director of the Live Free African Freedom Tour, on February 26, 2014 he, along with a group of amputees, summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world.