NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that concussions aren’t just a football issue but something on which every sport should concentrate.
“In recent years, there has been a sharper focus on concussions in football and other sports,” Goodell said during his speech at the University of North Carolina. “Let me make a point here. Concussions are a global issue, not just a football issue.”
Goodell’s speech, titled “Progress to the Road to a Safer Game,” was part of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science’s annual Carl Blyth Lecture.
The commissioner has been at the forefront of making pro football safer, and on Wednesday he discussed future steps to help player health and safety. He pointed out four ways the NFL is helping change football in dealing with concussions: increasing concussion knowledge, aiding in research and development, making rules more strict for using the head, and helping to expand the on-field training staffs in all levels of football, from youth to pros.
“As a league, we continue to achieve great success, the success of the league is simply amazing,” Goodell said. “For any organization to grow, to thrive, to remain relevant, it must evolve, improve and face up to the challenges.
“If there’s any single reason for the success of the NFL, we’ve never allowed ourselves to be complacent about anything.”
Goodell said he wants concussions to be a public topic.
“There is a national conversation taking place about football,” he said. “We welcome it. That’s how we approach our jobs every day. … As if the future of the game relies on it. Because it does.”
Goodell also addressed what he called a myth that the average life expectancy of an NFL player was in the low 50s.
“It was a very real problem that caused some very real issues, like players taking their pension early,” he said. “However, recently the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Heath published a study that said the average life of an NFL player is longer than that of the average person.
“That’s a myth that has caused a lot of problems for individuals. That’s right, longer than most of the people in this room.”
Goodell said the league’s concussion research is important because it also will help the average person in the long term.
“Most concussions don’t even occur in competition sports,” he said. “Football concussions are a small percentage of total concussions.
“We can and must do more to prevent and treat them. Scientists and doctors know more about concussions than just a few years ago. How do we use this information to make the game safer? This is our challenge. Making the game safer.”
To do so, Goodell said it first takes awareness.
“High schools and colleges must take leadership roles, as well as their coaches and athletes, raising awareness and more strongly being involved,” he said. “We challenge everyone in sports to be agents of that culture change.”
Goodell said leaders base decisions on facts, and the NFL is helping to find more facts about brain injuries by donating $30 million last year to this cause. The league, in conjunction with the NFL Players Association, plans to donate $100 million more over the next decade, according to Goodell, who also pointed out the NFL’s upcoming partnership with General Electric and the U.S. Army.
“We are going outside the traditional research approach to private industry and military to speed up progress,” Goodell said. “… There are no easy answers, but science can be a game changer.”
The commissioner said the league is committed to stricter playing rules and enforcement of illegal hits. He pointed out that concussions have been reduced 50 percent and kickoff returns for touchdowns are the same since the league moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line last season.
“Enforcing rules on illegal hits has changed tackling for the better. We now see fewer hits to the head,” he said. “We will find other ways to take the head out of the game.
“The helmet is for protection. It is not a weapon.”
Goodell noted the NFL will require players to wear leg and thigh pads next season, iPads will be used to help diagnose concussions and sideline video will help doctors note the origin of concussions after the hit.
Goodell also said it was important for the league to be involved in the campaign to make sports safer for young athletes. He noted that the league has helped pass concussion laws in 42 states. It is pushing to have more trainers on the sidelines. And the NFL has been active in creating volunteer advisory panels with doctors who give input on care of the athletes.
Watch Goodell’s entire news conference here.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor