- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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On Monday, the NFL and General Electric forged a partnership to help drive new and innovative approaches to diagnosing and treating brain injuries. The two business titans announced a $40 million research commitment and, with Under Armour, welcomed an open competition to prevent and improve brain trauma with up to $20 million on the line. I had a chance to sit down with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to talk about the deal.
Rovell: Roger, the announcement of the open competition was something that really caught my eye. How is something like this different from the other things the league has done?
Goodell: Well this is much different than investing in research, which usually has a longer time frame. This was something, and [GE CEO] Jeff [Immelt] and I talked about it, we wanted to see results more quickly and tangible results. This is about an innovation challenge, which, if we put a shorter time frame on it, we can drive those scientists, those entrepreneurs, those people who have ideas about how to solve these issues -- they'll come in quickly and we'll be able to make more rapid progress.
Rovell: How do you answer the skeptical fan that says, "The NFL is just doing this as a response to the ex-player concussion lawsuits or what's happened in the last three or four years?
Goodell: It's all about the future, Darren. That's what this is. This is gonna change not just football moving forward, but I think all of sports and beyond sports, on to the battlefields for our military. And as Jeff points out, it's not just brain injury. As we learn more about the brain and brain injury, we will also learn more about brain disease, and that will make a difference for so many people and our society in general because it is probably the last frontier of medicine and one of the big challenges we face.
Rovell: Where are the players in all this? Obviously they are not party to any of the lawsuits, but the PA, the union, have not been part of any of these announcements with you. Where are they?
Goodell: The Players Association fully supports us. I talked to [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice [Smith] about it. They also are working on some initiatives that they think will be beneficial to their players, so I think they're very supportive and will be a part of whatever we think we need to do to help advance this more quickly.
Rovell: Last year, the NFL donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to support medical research. Again, there's always skepticism. How does that donation, if at all, affect the league's agenda?
Goodell: I don't think you tell the NIH what to expect. We give them the money because they are the leading scientists in the world, and they make the determinations where that money goes, how it can be best spent, and what kind of results can be expected. And that's why we went to them. Well again, we're pushing medicine. We're pushing science to try to find answers to these difficult issues. In the meantime we're not waiting, Darren. We're changing the way the game is played by our rules, by equipment, by the things that we can change, including how we evaluate players for the injuries and take a more cautious approach and using scientists and medical experts to help us make those decisions.