Progress on limiting the health effects of concussions in the NFL and the Army will take a change in the “warrior culture” that keeps players and soldiers silent and their comrades and leaders inattentive to the problem.
That’s the message NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno delivered in a panel discussion held at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. on Thursday afternoon and streamed online by the Army.
Goodell appeared on the panel the same day that the NFL filed a motion to dismiss 140 concussion lawsuits, saying the claims are pre-empted by federal labor law.
Before an audience of cadets, the two leaders, as well as two soldiers, two former players and two brain injury specialists, probed the topics of concussions and mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in sports and the military and what can be done to help identify, treat and prevent them.
All agreed that while coaches, platoon leaders and other leaders should bear responsibility for combating the problem, a third party needs to involved to help decide whether to keep soldiers and athletes active.
“It’s not just the medical people or you as leaders’ responsibility,” Odierno said. “It’s you as a fellow soldier or fellow player. If you see that they’ve been injured and you can tell that they’re not necessarily with it entirely. We’re not asking you to make a diagnosis. Make sure you tell somebody. Get them of the field. Get them off the battlefield. And make sure they get the proper medical attention. It’s all of our responsibilities.”
The panelists pointed out the similarities among soldiers and NFL athletes and cultures in which fierce competitiveness can allow injuries such as concussions to be ignored for sake of winning or completing a mission. Pressure from peers can also lead to players or soldiers not wanting to report health issues for fear of being perceived as weak.
“There’s been a greater awareness that these injuries are serious because they deal with your brain and they need the proper time to be able to recover from that,” Goodell said. “Hopefully the awareness allows soldiers and players in any sport to understand that when you have these injuries you treat them seriously and make sure you get medical attention before you engage.”
Medical experts on the panel explained how new protocols and tests in the NFL and the military help diagnose concussions. For example, the Army takes an image of soldiers' brains before deployment to create base line that can be compared with an image after combat. Other rules and regulations keep players and soldiers from returning to action before they are cleared by a medical professional.
The effects of repeated concussions and dangers to children have spurred 38 states to pass concussion laws. Most require schools and leagues to inform athletes and parents about concussions, to remove kids who appear to have suffered concussions from play and to require players to be cleared by a health care professional before returning. The NFL has supported that effort.
Former NFL players Troy Vincent and Bart Oates appeared on the panel, as did Staff Sgt. Shawn Hibbard and Maj. Christopher Molino. The medical experts were Maj. Sarah Goldman, Army's traumatic brain injury program director, and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, of the University of Washington, who co-chairs the NFL's head, neck and spine committee.
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