I am pleased to see that the mainstream media has finally taken notice of the concussion/brain injury issue in football and more specifically the NFL. When the topic appears on the cover of Time and is featured in the New Yorker magazine (written by my favorite author Malcolm Gladwell) it has finally gained traction. I pray that more people, fans, coaches and especially parents will recognize and educate themselves on this national health issue.
For years the NFL was swimming against the current on this very important player safety issue. But now under the leadership of Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director Demaurice Smith there appears to be real hope and progress towards a safer future.
But as research, understanding and cultural acceptance of this injury improves I must address the elephant in the room. Who was responsible for championing player safety with regard to concussions and brain injury during the past 'lost' decade? The NFLPA medical director.
Most of the information that has gained media exposure is not new. The acceptance of the data by the NFL and their change of official policy are a recent development, but the knowledge that concussions are linked to permanent brain injury and mental illness is not.
Gene Upshaw, the past director of the NFLPA, is no longer with us, therefore I will not address his tenure. But the medical director during much of that period remains.
Knowledgeable observers should be concerned that the medical director of the player's union, the NFLPA, did not do enough to adequately protect his clients/patients, the players. Virtually all meaningful advancement, dialogue and pressure that were exerted were provided by interested individuals, physician, researchers and journalists outside of the NFLPA's medical director's office. It is reasonable to state that the response by the NFLPA's medical director was far more consistent with that of the NFL owners and not in the player's best interest despite the growing mountain of science that spoke to the dangers.
The past was not particularly healthy for NFL players in regards to concussion and brain injury management and response. The future for increased player safety holds promise ... or does it?
The NFL should lead the way in an effort to make football safer on all levels without damaging the integrity of the game. To do so, some significant changes must be considered. Here are just a few: a mandatory 7-day rule for suspected concussions, prohibiting three & four-point stances for lineman, limiting the number of touches a running back may have per game, awarding the ball on the 20 yd. line to obviate the need for injury prone kick offs, mandating equipment improvements (protective padding, improved helmets and advanced mouth guards) and limiting the contact OTA's (organized training activities) that seem to be an ever growing trend.
The NFL is now under new leadership, Roger Goodell. The NFLPA is under new leadership, Atty. DeMaurice Smith. Dr. Ira Casson, the NFL's past point man for the concussion and brain injury debate has been replaced. But the NFLPA's medical director remains.
Sometimes an old problem just needs a fresh pair of eyes.