By Barry Janoff
September 16, 2013: Of all the issues involving the NFL, the most significant is arguably the situation regarding former and current players and the impact of head injuries and concussions.
In August, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 former players related to head traumas. Many of the ex-NFLers had been in lawsuits that sought to bring to light what the NFL has known about the dangers of concussions and head injuries specifically as they relate to playing football.
Earlier this month, the NFL along with league partners Under Armour and GE unveiled Head Health Challenge II.
Although multi-layered, the basic purpose of Head Health Challenge II is "an open invitation to award up to $10 million for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and for new tools for tracking head impacts in real time." The challenge is part of the Head Health Initiative, "a collaboration to help speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury."
The deadline to submit entries is Jan. 30, 2014. In September 2014, up to ten winners will be selected for the chance to receive as much as $500,000 each. Up to five of the potential ten finalists will be eligible to receive as much as one million dollars after the second phase of judging concludes. (Full details here.)
The initiative was unveiled during a media event held on the Under Armour campus in Baltimore earlier this month. In attendance were NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank (pictured with Goodell) and Sue Siegel, CEO for GE Business Innovations.
The first Head Health Challenge, "Methods for Diagnosis and Prognosis of Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries," launched in March and closed in July with more than 400 submissions from more than 25 countries. It will invest up to $10 million in technologies and imaging biomarkers that address identification and management of subclinical and mild traumatic brain injury. Winners of the first challenge will be announced later this year. according to the NFL. (Details here.)
"As longstanding partners of the NFL and in collaboration with GE, we take great pride in our participation in the Head Health Challenge II," Plank said during the event. "We are excited to harness the power of innovation and assemble the best minds in the world towards an effort to make the field of play safer across all sports and for all athletes."
Commissioner Goodell spoke with NYSportsJournalism and other members of the media about Head Health Challenge II and how the NFL is looking beyond the playing field for ways to prevent, diagnose and treat head traumas.
Q: Where do you see the Head Health Challenge having its biggest impact?
Commissioner Goodell: Not just in football or sports, but in the military, people who have been in accidents and beyond. Concussions and head injuries are a worldwide issue. The NFL, GE and Under Armour are joining to award $10 million to for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and for new tools for tracking head impacts in real time. But we accept the mantle of responsibility, and we're going to change the way people play sports and the way people live.
Q: How important is it to have Under Armour and GE working with the NFL on this initiative?
Commissioner Goodell: We are very pleased to have Under Armour join our work with GE to help accelerate progress and find better ways to protect the brain from injury. This is a perfect example of our shared commitment to making the culture of sports better and safer — especially for young athletes.
Q: How would you assess the rules the NFL now has in place?
Commissioner Goodell: Rules are designed to make the game safer. But players have to play within the rules. There has to be education that comes with innovation.
Q: Have you ever asked players to watch teammates and let a doctor on the sideline or a coach know if they see something wrong?
Commissioner Goodell: People around you are the best ones who can see if something is not right. We don't ask them to play doctor, but to alert someone. Protect your teammate.
Q: Are concussions more prevalent today or are players, coaches and others just more aware of them?
Commissioner Goodell: We keep an incredible amount of data on injuries. But we don't make any proclamations on the number of injuries. I would say more concussions are being reported because of awareness and because there are more defined ways to see if a player has suffered a concussion. Even with all of the advancements in medicine and equipment we have and those still to come, we will never say we have won the battle against concussions. We will always continue to stay on top of the situation, seek to reduce the number that occur and do what we can to prevent them.
"Rules are designed to make the game safer. But players have to play within the rules. There has to be education that comes with innovation."
Q: How do you think the $765 million settlement will be remembered and what impact will it have?
Commissioner Goodell: I don't know how it will be remembered. I do know that it will help former players and their families who need the help. It is going to be to provide help for the players and their families that have cognitive issues. And that's a good thing. Rather than litigating for years, the owners and the NFL and frankly the plaintiffs all said let's go do something that's great for the game and great for the people and get the help to the people who need it.
Q: How did the league and the people representing former players come to the $765 million resolution?
Commissioner Goodell: We were able to find a common ground to be able to get the relief to the players and their families now rather than spending years litigating when those benefits wouldn't go to the players. So we're very supportive of it and we think it's the right thing to move forward and to try to do what we can to help our players and their families.
Q: How do you respond to critics who say that $765 million is not enough, especially considering how much money the NFL is said to make each year?
Commissioner Goodell: People start with making an assumption . . . that we make $10 billion [a year]. That's $10 billion in revenue. And there's a difference between making [a profit] and revenue. So this is a significant amount of money. The plaintiffs also believed it was an appropriate amount. The mediator felt it was an appropriate amount. It's a tremendous amount of money that we think is going to go to the right purpose, which is helping players and their families. So $765 million is a lot of money.
Q: What is being done on a regular basis beyond the financial payout?
Commissioner Goodell: We are working diligently to have better equipment and provide better protection, and have more research and medical solutions. Not just in football, but in the military where soldiers who put their lives on the line suffer head injuries. Or for people who have been in car accidents or involved in other situations where head injuries occur.
Q: How do you think Head Health Challenge, the recent settlement and other factors regarding the situation will impact the future of the league and its fans?
Commissioner Goodell: It's all about a culture change. This will help to take bounties out of the game . . . The focus has been on changing the rules, particularly regarding defenseless players. On seeing that leading with your head [to tackle] is taken out of the game. The helmet is for protection. it is not a weapon. We have to get back to that.
The equipment is better. We have taken techniques out that are dangerous and that can lead to injury. People are teaching the game more efficiently and more intelligently. I really believe the awareness that's taking place, there's never been a better time to play the game of football or to be a fan of the game of football. I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the game of football.
NFL $765 Million Deal Will Have An Impact
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