NFL commissioner discusses concussions during speech at UNC
As part of a recent study, University of North Carolina professor Kevin Guskiewicz placed accelerometers in the helmets of college football players in order to measure the frequency, location and magnitude of head impacts.
His research showed that the most severe head impacts occur on kickoffs. As a result, the NFL moved its kickoffs from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, which resulted in more touchbacks, fewer returns and a 40 percent reduction in the amount of concussions in each of the past two seasons.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was at UNC on Wednesday to give a lecture on making his sport safer, and he used Guskiewicz’s research as an example.
“There’s still a great deal we don’t know about the effects of head injuries, but one thing is for sure — we can and must do more to reduce, prevent and treat them,” Goodell said. “Scientists and doctors know more about concussions than they did even a few year ago.
“The key issue is: How do we use this new understanding to make the game safer and more exciting in the future?”
Goodell gave the UNC Department of Exercise and Sport Science’s annual Carl Blyth Lecture, which he titled “Progress on the Road to a Safer Game.”
The Blyth Lecture is named for the late Carl Blyth, a leading researcher in the field of athletic injuries who established the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at UNC in 1965.
Goodell said that Blythe played a key role in getting spearing out of football. Horse-collar tackles, helmet slaps and hits to the head of a defenseless receiver are other dangerous techniques that no longer are allowed.
“Improving safety in sports at every level is not just a goal, it is essential,” Goodell said. “We need a culture of safety for every sport so that all of us who love sports can say with confidence about the future, the best is yet to come.”
The league just donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on brain injuries. The NFL also is giving $60 million to General Electric to develop diagnostic tools for concussions and to create better protections for players’ heads.
Besides supporting research, Goodell said the NFL will continue to make rule changes and enforce them strictly in order to increase safety.
“We don’t want to take physical contact out of the game, but we must ensure players follow the rules designed to reduce the risk of injury,” Goodell said. “Fines and suspensions have changed tactics for the better.”
Goodell also met with UNC football coach Larry Fedora, offensive tackle James Hurst and defensive end Kareem Martin before his hour-long lecture.
Speaking to the Raleigh Sports Club in February, Fedora said he is using Guskiewicz’s research to reduce head injuries, though no amount of education can completely stop head injuries in football. Fedora said the team had seven concussions during the 2012 season.
“When you’ve got guys that are 250 pounds and they’re faster than they’ve ever been and they’re still running together, knocking the crap out of each other, you’re going to have some concussions,” Fedora said. “That’s just the way it is.”
Still, Goodell said he welcomes a national conversation about safety in football, and he hopes that the research being done by Guskiewicz and others will contribute to that discussion.
“I’m very confident that the work that Kevin and this university is doing is going to have a huge impact on football going forward,” Goodell said.
NOTES — A recent survey of the NFL Players Association found that 78 percent of players don’t trust their team’s medical staff. When asked about that poll, Goodell responded: “I spoke to the head of the NFLPA about that and said I’d love to see a copy of that, because I don’t believe that.” … Despite teams often having to play twice in five days, Goodell said there was no evidence that there’s a higher injury rate in Thursday night games. … While offensive players may seem more at risk for head injuries, Goodell said defensive backs suffer more concussions than any other position group.