Upon receiving the "Medal for Outstanding Service" from the Neurosurgical Society of America, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell highlighted the many strides that the league has made under his stewardship regarding players safety while understanding there is much work to be done.
"The NFL has a responsibility to evolve and face up to its challenges," Goodell said. "If there is any single reason for the success of the NFL, it's because we have never allowed ourselves to be complacent. The quest for a safer, better game is no exception."
Goodell shared with the panel an encounter he had with a parent during a recent skiing trip. The parent would not let her child play football because of the risk for concussions, but did allow the child to snowboard. A recent USA Today feature revealed that Olympic snowboard champion Shaun White has had nine undisclosed concussions.
"The fact is that every sport has a risk of injury," Goodell said. "Our primary commitment is to change the culture of football to better protect players without changing the essence of what makes the game so great."
The NFL has committed $30 million to the National Institutes of Health in a partnership called the Sports and Health Research Program which is accepting grant proposals for study into the diagnosis, prevention and long-term effects of sports-related brain injuries. The NFL has also joined forces with General Electric, Under Armour and the U.S. Army to develop advanced diagnostic tools for concussions and better head protection. The initial funding for this project is $60 million over the next four years.
Rules changes have also been passed to improve player safety. In March, the NFL teams passed a new rule change which prohibits offensive and defensive players from delivering hits outside the tackle box with the crown of the helmet.
In 2011, the NFL moved the kickoff line from the 30- to the 35-yard line. The result has been a 40 percent reduction in the number of concussions on kickoffs in each of the past two seasons. Last year, the NCAA adopted the same rule and had a 50 percent decrease.
The NFL has also mandated new sideline diagnostic protocols, the addition of certified athletic trainers in the press box to serve as spotters and the use of video to analyze injuries to help team physicians.
The NFL has also been at the forefront of fighting as an advocate for safety in sports by supporting legislature such as the Zackery Lystedt Youth Concussion Law, which requires athletes to be removed from games or practices once he or she has sustained a concussion. The athlete must also be given clearance by a medical professional before he or she can return to action. This law has been passed in 44 states as well as Washington D.C. since its inception in 2009. Pennsylvania passed the law in 2011.
Goodell realizes that it's important to impact the game at the youth level where three million kids play tackle football and another three million play flag football. Through an NFL Foundation grant, the NFL and USA Football will expand its "Heads Up Football" program into 500 youth football leagues. The program, which will enlist the help of 100 former NFL players, teaches safer tackling and hitting techniques while also educating coaches and parents about health and safety in football.
The NFL has been in the spotlight when it comes to the discussion regarding safety in sports. With the enormous popularity that the league enjoys, it is not shying away from the conversation on how to make sports - all sports - safer.
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