NEW ORLEANS — Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president of labor and general counsel, said the league believes players would benefit from having an independent neurological specialist on the sidelines — something they think will happen for the 2013 season.
“We’re going to include, with team medical staffs, an unaffiliated neurological consultant,” Pash said during Thursday’s NFL health and safety news conference at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. “(They) will work with the team medical staffs. Not only do you have an extra set of eyes on the field to monitor play, but there is another expert on the sidelines to work with the team staffs and assist in the identification, diagnosis and management of players who have had concussions to make sure that the protocols that we’ve implemented under the guidance of the medical committee and NFLPA medical committees are being implemented properly and to assist in making sure that we provide uniform and highest-level care for players who have experienced concussions.”
Pash cited statements from concussion conferences and medical societies and said the goal of adding the independent neurological consultant will be to “provide the best possible care” for the athletes on the field.
“The team physician is in the best position to make these evaluations because of the unique knowledge that the team physician has of the player,” Pash said. “A concussion is a different kind of injury. Sometimes, there may be obvious signs, but sometimes, they’re subtle.
“The goal is to have expertise, the highest-quality care, make sure that we’re administering protocols that have been put in place in a thorough, comprehensive way, and we think this additional physician will accomplish that.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said later in the day that he hadn’t seen the league’s proposal, but he explained why he agreed having an independent sideline concussion expert was important.
“This year, you reported on a number of high-profile instances where players were apparently concussed or at least suffered a sub-concussive blow,” Smith said. “We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the sideline concussion protocol we all agreed to (in the CBA) was not given to those players. …
“Our solution for that was we would have a sideline concussion expert that is not paid by either team. That person would have one job of making sure that sideline concussion protocol was employed. If that person made a determination that that player should not go back in, that player does not go back in. That is something I’m hoping the National Football League has finally agreed to. It is also something we have committed ourselves to filing a grievance, if we need to, to get those sideline concussion experts utilized in our game.”
In addition to addressing concussions at the NFL level, Pash spoke on the importance of taking the lead in preventing such injuries at all levels through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The NFL and USA Football last year initiated a pilot program where older helmets were replaced with new ones in economically disadvantaged areas around the country.
“We have worked closely with the CDC on providing information and training material,” Pash said. “There are 500,000 CDC information fact sheets in schools across America, and the ‘Heads Up’ concussion video that the CDC developed, with support from the NFL, has been viewed by many thousands of coaches, players (and) parents. It was made a required element of the training for all of the U.S. Olympic team’s medical staff in the 2012 Olympics. We think that is some indication of the quality of the work. We’re very proud of our association and work with the CDC.
“Under the leadership of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, we partnered with a group of interested organizations — including the Players Association, the major helmet manufacturers — and we ran a program this year to replace old, worn-out football helmets in youth leagues. We’ve replaced thousands of helmets in those markets. USA Football is going to expand that helmet improvement plan in the coming year, and we expect to see it in all 50 states.”
During Super Bowl week in New Orleans, the NFL has held Youth Football Clinics, where current players and coaches from USA Football have taught hundreds of children the right way to play the game and remain safe.
“You’ll find a critical part of those youth clinics are people educating the young players and their coaches on important issues, hydration, concussion prevention, helmet fit, safe tackling,” Pash said. “That’s something that we’re doing here. It’s part of an effort that was rolled out earlier this year by USA Football. We got a tremendous response from the parents and coaches involved. With the support of USA Football and our partners, we’re going to have that program have a much broader reach in the coming year.”
In addition to Pash, Dr. John York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers and the chairman of the NFL Owners’ Committee on Health and Safety, spoke at Thursday’s news conference. York was one of several NFL community members who attended the fourth annual Concussion Conference run by FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland.
“It became very impressive that the people in FIFA felt like rules and regulations were the beginning place to try to prevent concussions,” York said. “It is clear that in hockey, soccer, racing, almost every sport, that rules and regulations help decrease the number of concussions. As the NFL, we are so self-centered about concussions. While I understand we should be concerned about our players and the health and safety of those players, concussions really involve all of football, not just the NFL, but college, high school and even younger. It also involves both genders and all sports.”
Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, the co-chairman of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, is proud of the work the NFL has done to get the Zackery Lystedt Law adopted in 42 states.
Lystedt was a middle-school football player who suffered a brain injury in 2006 after he returned to a game following a concussion. After the injury, Lystedt and his family partnered with medical, business and community organizations that lobbied Washington state legislature to protect young athletes by preventing them from returning to play before they are healthy.
Under the law, athletes, parents and coaches must be educated about the dangers of concussions every year. If the athlete is suspected of having a concussion, they need to be taken out of the game or practice and not return until cleared by a licensed health-care provider.
“We want that to trickle down to the youth athletes, those getting the Zach Lystedt law passed,” Ellenbogen said. “Forty-two states have the Zach Lystedt Law. We couldn’t believe we would get two states. We’re eight states away from making the USA just a little safer for youth athletes.”
– Matt Florjancic, ClevelandBrowns.com Staff Writer