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NFL "Stricter Statement" on Concussions Not Strict Enough

While it's a huge step for the multi-billion dollar NFL to make a stand on the increasing number of concussions, it really is no better than what each team has been pretty much doing for the most part already. The league has long wanted to keep their superstars on the field and whether it be by changing the rules and throwing more penalties in order to protect the QB's, or turning their heads when the players get knocked silly and then either return to the game or play the very next week, they need to have more specific guidelines that are enforced each and every time a player's brain is bruised.

Here is the NFL Press Release regarding concussions, while my commentary continues after the 'Jump.' Also, see the first comment below by a reader who emailed me the accompanying facts that seems to blacken the NFL's eyes even deeper.



COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL notified NFL teams today that a new and expanded statement on return-to-play for a player who sustains a concussion will take effect with games beginning this week.

The stricter 2009 statement on return-to-play was developed by the NFL’s medical committee on concussions in conjunction with team doctors, outside medical experts, and the NFL Players Association in order to provide more specificity in making return-to-play decisions. The new guidance supplements the 2007 statement on return-to-play that encouraged team physicians and athletic trainers to continue to take a conservative approach to treating concussions and established that a player should not return to the same game after a concussion if the team medical staff determined that he had lost consciousness.  

The 2009 statement advises that a player who suffers a concussion should not return to play or practice on the same day if he shows any signs or symptoms of a concussion that are outlined in the return-to-play statement. It further states:

"Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant. A critical element of managing concussions is candid reporting by players of their symptoms following an injury. Accordingly, players are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion."

Based on the 2009 statement, a player who suffers a concussion should not return to play or practice on the same day if any of the following symptoms or signs is identified based on the initial medical evaluation of the player: 

Loss of consciousness;

Confusion as evidenced by disorientation to person, time or place; inability to respond appropriately to questions; or inability to remember assignments or plays;

Amnesia as evidenced by a gap in memory for events occurring just prior to the injury; inability to learn and retain new information; or a gap in memory for events that occurred after the injury;

Abnormal neurological examination, such as abnormal pupillary response, persistent dizziness or vertigo, or abnormal balance on sideline testing

New and persistent headache, particularly if accompanied by photosensitivity, nausea, vomiting or dizziness;

Any other persistent signs or symptoms of concussion.

"The evidence demonstrates that team medical staffs have been addressing concussions in an increasingly cautious and conservative way," Commissioner Goodell said in a memo to the NFL clubs. "This new return-to-play statement reinforces our commitment to advancing player safety. Along with improved equipment, better education, and rules changes designed to reduce impacts to the head, it will make our game safer for the men who play it, and set an important example for players at all levels of play."

For years and specifically recently, the NFL ignored repeated warnings about the devastating effects that the violence of football has had on players from way back up to and including today's current players. Most Baltimore Colts' fans are well aware of the story about former Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who barely recognizes the simple fact that he even played in the National Football League, based on his advanced dementia that is attributed to the beating he took through his career in the league. Until 2007, the league had basically turned its back on the issue and the players that were suffering from football related brain injuries such as Mackey. The NFL held their first league-wide concussion summit in 2007, from which the "88 Plan," named after the uniform number worn by John Mackey. Mackey was receiving a paltry $2,450 month  pension that couldn't come close to covering the medical expenses his condition was requiring. Now the "88 Plan" offers up to $88,000 per year to former players with dementia. But that is not doing enough.

Ask former Baltimore Colt Bruce Laird about his opinions about how the former players medical expenses are being aided by the league. Ask Mike Ditka and you'll unleash a torrent of negativity about how the men who formed tha game we now love so much have been virtually ignored. For those Pittsburgh Steelers fans, ask the friends and family of former All Pro and Hall of Fame center, Mike Webster, who died at the age of 50 from mysterious and bizarre behaviors related to the 15 years he spent snapping the ball to the likes of Terry Bradshaw in the 1970's. Ask current NFL commentator Merril Hoge, who almost died from a brain injury that cut his NFL career short. However, Hoge may be one of the lucky ones, as he stopped playing while so many other players continue to play through multiple concussions that will surely add up and take its toll in their futures.

There have been so many cases related to this issue that have been reviewed, dissected, autopsied and brought to the league's attention, only to have the researchers findings ignored, disparaged, told it was flawed and more related to unauthorized steroid use than the game itself. In fact, the NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee was headed by a rheumatologist and there was not one neuropathologist (study of the nervous system) on the committee! I urge you all reading this to track down the October 2009 issue of Gentleman's Quarterly Magazine (GQ) and find the article titled "This Is Your Brain on Football" by Jeanne Marie Laskas. It is a thorough examination of the compelling research that one specific doctor committed himself to in order to help the family of one player then became obsessed with the issue and the ignorance of the league that had the power to do something about it. Much of this story is based on the story from GQ.

The GQ story will fascinate you while at the same time shock your senses with the facts and opinions of the doctors involved in this research and make you think twice every time a player misses time with a head injury-related condition. The price these guys are paying on a weekly basis that will obviously and definitely affect their quality of life after football will concern you to the point of changing the way you look at the game and players from this point forward.

The NFL needs to define their stance with specific requirements and rules regarding brain injuries and concussions, with the least of which should be mandatory minimum time off after sustaining a concussion or similar injury through an independent physician's review. Their current statement, which looks good and is certainly a first step in the process, is just not enough and so much has been lost in terms of quality of life for former players.

The clock is ticking on the current ones right now.