Thursday, July 21, 2011
Commish for a day: Concussion prevention
By Kevin Seifert
Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:
After suffering two concussions in a 10-week period last season, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers changed helmets. Exercising an under-publicized option for NFL players, Rodgers began wearing a new style of helmet made by a different manufacturer than the one that provides the league's default helmets.
Rodgers never expressed concern about his previous helmet and said little publicly about the decision. To me, however, it was a stunningly arbitrary event involving a health issue that should have no gray area.
Did Rodgers' new helmet provide better concussion protection? According to a new study by Virginia Tech researchers, it did. If so, shouldn't every NFL player have made the same switch immediately? Why didn't they? No one knows for sure. In the NFL, that seemingly simple conversation happens behind closed doors and is unfortunately affected by corporate sponsorship.
If I were commissioner for a day, I would blow those doors off their hinges. There should be no mystery, in public or private, about the latest and best innovations for preventing concussions. To me, head injuries are the biggest long-term threat to professional football. As we learn more about their causes and symptoms, and observe the long-term effects, I wonder if prospective players won't reach a tipping point on tolerable risk and if fans will begin disassociating with the game as a result.
In this case, protecting the health of players would go hand-in-hand with ensuring the future of the game. As commissioner, it would be critical to accelerate efforts to ensure players have access, knowledge and awareness of the best safety equipment. If there is any question, the commissioner must gather a cross-section of experts to identify or develop it -- or both.
If you're looking for a model, check out the work of NASCAR to protect drivers both from fire and head/spinal injuries. Just as NASCAR officials can't eliminate wrecks, the NFL commissioner can't prevent violent contact between players. What he can do, however, is ensure -- with every public certainty -- that players are as well-protected as science allows.