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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog
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Friday, March 23, 2012
Player safety must be NFL priority
From Fox News:
Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner were targets of the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-performance scheme, one of many revelations as the league announced sanctions Wednesday.
It wasn’t disclosed by the NFL if the bounties were literally placed on the stars' heads, a scary thought for player safety advocates.
“When you hear about players being targeted, one of the first things you worry about is headhunting,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, professor at the University of North Carolina and member of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee. “There are numerous ways to knock a player out of a game. I hate to even think that they’d plan that out so methodically.”
Researchers have increasingly uncovered the dangers of traumatic brain injuries and the NFL — maybe a bit late for some experts’ liking — has taken the issue of concussed players more seriously in recent seasons. The NFL has responded by tightening concussion protocols, punishing players for dangerous hits, moving kickoffs forward 5 yards and adding athletic trainers to press boxes to monitor players.
That the Saints, under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, instituted a scheme and contributed money to injure other players certainly offset some of the league’s efforts. Maybe it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the suspensions included Williams (banned indefinitely), Saints head coach Sean Payton (one season), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games), as well as the loss of draft picks.
“I think it was a really great decision,” said Robert Harbaugh, a neurosurgeon who is also a member of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee. “The punishment had to be significant. Everybody knew things like there were going on and it shouldn’t be tolerated. This was investigated thoroughly and they made the right decision. I hope this puts an end to it.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is going a step further than just punishing those involved in the bounties that took place the previous three seasons in New Orleans: All 32 teams must certify in writing by March 30 that they don’t have a bounty system in place.
“Bounty programs have no place in our game,” Goodell said in a statement. “They are incompatible with our efforts to promote sportsmanship, fair play and player safety.”
This week’s decision — and the possible punishments for the individual players involved — hasn’t been universally lauded, even by those who have lasting effects from the playing pro football like Dave Pear.
“It’s just a PR stunt,” said Pear, a former lineman and retired player advocate who underwent a hip replacement six weeks ago. “Knowing that declaring bounties on other players (will result in suspensions) is all well and good. Still, the nature of the sport is violent. The biggest concern right now for the league is the lawsuits over brain injuries.”
About 300 lawsuits have already been filed by former NFL players over traumatic brain injury, some going so far as to sue equipment manufacturers along with the league.
Whatever the motivations, Lisa Gfeller likes the message the sanctions sent. Her son, Matthew, was killed after a helmet-to-helmet hit during a high school football game in North Carolina in 2008.
“Everything starts with the NFL,” Gfeller said. “The younger players and their families look up to the NFL. Whatever the league does trickles down to the lower levels. It’s good to see the commissioner take charge. I really hope the he continues with that trajectory.”
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