NFL tackles concussion issue

League will require testing of players, start whistle-blower system

Pro Football

June 20, 2007|By Don Pierson | Don Pierson,Chicago Tribune

Rosemont, Ill. -- During the NFL's daylong seminar on concussions yesterday, Troy Vincent saw himself featured among the taped highlights shown to medical experts and doctors and trainers from all 32 teams. Vincent was on the screen, knocked out cold.

Vincent, president of the NFL Players Association, plays safety, a position name apt for the mandatory meeting.

Head injuries and their lingering effects are beginning to displace knee injuries as the most feared consequence of the violent sport. Studies have linked "mild traumatic brain injury" (MTBI) to the kind of long-term brain damage usually associated with boxers.

The NFL has questioned those studies, but yesterday's seminar included doctors who have criticized NFL medical practices. They appeared on panels along with doctors from within the league who have studied concussions on various levels for 14 years.

"We all have a common interest, learning more about concussions and the ramifications of head injuries so that we can protect the well-being of our players," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who convened the seminar. "We have no other agenda, and vigorous debate is part of advancing that agenda."

Among the steps the NFL is taking is requiring NFL players, for the first time, to undergo neuro- psychological baseline testing this season in an effort to help the league establish uniform guidelines to determine when players should return to play.

And next month, when training camps start, the league will implement a whistle-blower system allowing anyone to anonymously report when doctors are pressured to clear players or when players are pressured to play. The NFL hopes that will ease pressure on players to take the field with a concussion.

"It's an important element of what we're trying to accomplish," Goodell said. "I have said repeatedly and will continue to say that medical decisions must override any competitive decisions."

The message is that when creating concussions is among the fundamental purposes of the sport, changing the culture of football is no small task.

The goal is to educate players, doctors, trainers and coaches on treating concussions properly.

"What I like is that every [NFL] trainer is here, so everyone is hearing the same message," Vincent said. "This was mandatory. I think Roger is making a point of emphasis in this area. It has to start at the top."

Don Pierson writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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