Jeff Miller is the NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy. He oversaw the "NFL 2013 Health & Safety Report," which was released to the public Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday afternoon, Miller discussed with NFL Evolution contributing editor Bill Bradley the "Safety Report" and what it means to the league.
What does it entail to be the senior vice president of health and safety policy?
The league has been involved in promoting health and safety of this game for many, many years. With the number of investments the league has been making in scientific research, the emphasis we have been putting on youth football, the number of programs and policies we're emphasizing in recent years, it makes sense to have one person among many working on these issues. That defines my job. We have a great deal of support around the league for these many initiatives, and we continue to make the game better and safer for all levels.
The mile marker of the year is "Health & Safety Report." How surprised are you that so much has been accomplished in the past 12 months as part of the NFL's health and safety initiatives?
I think that it is a good guidepost for the many initiatives that the league is working on, everything from the scientific research investments, to the Player Engagement efforts that Troy Vincent and his group work on, to our support for USA Football's Heads Up Football program and the many other things. I think it's an indication of the many things the league is working on in a variety of different areas, both for our players as well as for the game. But it's always the case that the league is looking to do more and to work on those initiatives in a smarter and better way next year. I think the report is terrific, and hopefully it will inform the public about the work that is being done at the league level to make our game and sport safer. But hopefully it's one part of a longer story, and we'll have more to tell next year.
What should the average fan learn from the "Health & Safety Report"?
I think the takeaway is that in many different ways, the NFL is looking to make our game and other sports better and safer. Whether that be through the rules changes that are articulated through the report, whether that be through the way that we engage with our player population, whether it be through scientific research and investment, or work with governmental entities or with other private partners, the league has a significant number of initiatives and puts a significant amount of resources behind those efforts to improve this game. Football always evolves, and the NFL has evolved for many decades in regards to the way the game is played and we continue to do so. So memorializing all of these changes and being able to interact with our fans through this report is a terrific opportunity for us to discuss these changes, and hopefully allow fans to learn more about them.
What do you say to fans who don't like some of the safety changes going on with the league?
I say the game has always evolved. I say look at your [football] history, whether it's more recent history in previous decades and some of the techniques that were outlawed, like the head slap and other things. Or go way back in history to the early 1900s, when the game had to change significantly at the behest of President [Theodore] Roosevelt. There has been one consistent theme throughout, and that has been that football has always evolved, and it has always gotten better. I think if we put the changes that the league has made into that context, then it shouldn't come as a surprise to too many people. The product has always improved. And, importantly, I think that with smart people continuing to work on this evolution and continuing to improve the game, we'll continue to see important changes that are going to benefit the game at all levels.
What do you see down the road for NFL player safety?
I think you're going to see more results from many of the initiatives that we have invested in. I cite, for example, the scientific research, the commitment that the league has made for the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. That's $30 million being spent to study brain science. We'll begin to see specific research projects engaged in, and hopefully positive results come from that over the next couple of years. Similarly, we have a $60 million initiative with GE called the Head Health Initiative of which Under Armour is also a part. And over the next year or two, I think we will see scientific advancement in how you diagnose a concussion and how you predict proper treatment. Also, we'll see some innovations over how to better protect the brain. I think over the next year or two, we'll see significant advances that really are the benefits of the investments that the league has made. Now that's just on the scientific research side. I think the culture change, which is a term we use for how the game is played at all levels, will advance as well. Part of that is through the education and communication that the league is engaged in. And part of that is through our engagement with USA Football's Heads Up Football program to make sure that the sport is taught properly at all levels. So culture change is something that is probably difficult to measure on a day-to-day basis, but over time I think we will see that there will be significant advances made in that area as well.
Will it help the culture change that the National Federation of State High School Associations is adopting the Heads Up Football program for high schools all around the country beginning in 2014?
That is going to be a big change. USA Football has found that there's a great deal of demand for the Heads Up Football program, for teaching the game in a safer way, for certifying coaches, for adding player safety coaches into the mix and for engaging parents in ways that probably haven't been done at the youth level before. They are going to expand from the number of leagues they're in now -- about 2,800 youth leagues -- to even more, and the program has shown to be very popular. They also will expand upon the pilot project they have in high schools around the country, because there's appetite there too for high schools to engage in teaching the game in a better and safer way and for coaches to be certified as well. I think that the demand is there. I think USA Football has a very good product that appeals to a large portion of the football world. I think that its engagement with high schools -- should that be where USA Football chooses to put a lot of resources in the coming year -- they're going to find willing acceptance there as well.
Finally, out of the "Safety Report," is there one aspect of which you and the league are most proud?
The one thing that stands out more than any other is the variety of issues that the league is engaged in addressing. It's Dr. John York working with the Owners' Committee on Health and Safety, who have made a significant contribution. It's the Head, Neck and Spine Committee and all of these very valuable medical advisors who contribute to the league's scientific and medical understanding in their efforts to guide our research. It's Troy Vincent and his Player Engagement group working with retired players. It's the Competition Committee looking for ways to evolve through rules changes and working with our football operations people. It's the breadth of what we do. The bottom line is that whether it be the owners, or the vast medical advisors to the league, or the scientific professionals, there is a significant variety of work that is being done in many different ways to promote the health and safety of our sport. I think that's the most interesting part of the report.