National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said preventing head injuries during tackles is the top priority for the U.S.’s most popular sport as the season closes with tomorrow’s title game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
“The No. 1 issue is take the head out of the game,” Goodell said in New Orleans at his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference. “I think we’ve seen in the past several decades players using their heads more than they have.”
At least 2,000 former NFL players have filed more than 80 lawsuits against the league seeking damages for head injuries they say were sustained on the field. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by repeated head hits, has been found in the autopsies of at least three former NFL players who killed themselves, including 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau.
Goodell took at least eight questions on health and safety yesterday and said the league was looking to protect players by placing independent neurosurgeons on the sidelines during games, requiring postseason physicals for players that last three days, eliminating blows to the head and knees and suspending players for illegal hits.
“I’ll do anything that’s going to make the game safer and better,” he said.
An NFL Players Association survey released two days ago found that almost 80 percent of players said they don’t trust their teams’ medical staff.
About 78 percent of players who responded to a late-season survey said they had no trust in their medical help, with another 15 percent saying they had very little trust. Only 3 percent indicated some or a lot of trust in team doctors.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the union, said the survey was a first step in new research on players’ injuries and medical care, including a $100 million study by Harvard University of their long-term health.
The study, which will be funded from the players’ share of revenue under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, is a 10-year effort to improve injury prevention, create new treatment and diagnostic tools and improve the quality of life for athletes at all levels, according to Lee Nadler, a dean at Harvard Medical School.
Goodell said the union hadn’t mentioned the survey in a recent four-hour meeting.
“I’m disappointed because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players,” he said. “These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world.”
Goodell said he expects to see more suspensions for illegal hits because the bans “get through” to players who don’t want to let down their teammates. He said testing for human growth hormone would also help improve player safety.
“I think HGH testing is going to happen before the 2013 season,” he said.
Goodell said he welcomed comments by U.S. President Barack Obama, who said this week he’d have to think long and hard about allowing a child to play football. Goodell said he started playing tackle football in fourth grade and learned values, character and how to get up after being knocked down.
“I wouldn’t give back one day of playing tackle football,” he said.
Goodell said the league needed “a new generation” of rules encouraging the hiring of minority coaches and executives after none of 15 head coach and general manager jobs this season went to minorities.
“The results this year were simply not acceptable,” he said.
The commissioner also said the nickname of the Washington franchise was unlikely to change after a reporter said a survey of U.S. indigenous people suggested “Redskins” was offensive.
“I don’t think anybody wants to offend anybody,” Goodell said. “This has been discussed several times over a long period of time and I think Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they are proud of that heritage and that name.”