NFL Commish Tries to Ease Parents Worried About Concussions, But Brain Doc Says There’s More to It

After announcing the NFL’s $100 million “Play Smart Play Safe” to improve player safety, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sat down with Today Show’s Matt Lauer.

Image Credit: Screenshot/Today Show
Image Credit: Screenshot/Today Show

During the interview, Lauer recalled a past conversation with former Green Bay quarterback, Brett Favre, who said that if he had a son he would be “extremely reluctant” to let him play football.

Given the growing concerns among parents about letting their children play football due to the risks associated with sustaining a concussion, the NFL commissioner addressed the issue:

“Well, Matt, listen. I understand the skepticism of the NFL, but let me just go to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They have looked at this issue of young kids coming into football, and they have said, ‘It’s about proper coaching, improve the techniques. Do the things necessary to limit contacts.’

Those are changes that we have been making. We are seeing that in every level of football, from the NFL to youth leagues.”

In fact, Goodell admitted that while attending a youth football practice recently, he noticed that he could see the game being taught differently. Though he didn’t get into the specific changes in the way the game was being taught, Goodell added that the change is “great for football,” as well as other sports.

Image Credit: Independent Journal Review
Image Credit: Independent Journal Review

However, Dr. Elizabeth Sandel, who is board-certified in Physical Medicine, Brain Injury Medicine, and has specialized in caring for patients with brain injuries for more than 30 years, tells Independent Journal Review that there is still merit in parents being concerned about their child playing contact sports.

Although Goodell may be confident in the changes being made to contact sports at the lowest level, Dr. Sandel feels these adjustments may not result in an immediate difference in safety, and that there is more that needs to be done:

“I am not of the opinion that there is no risk of a child or a teenager going into sports like football and soccer. The chances are over a period of years, that the athlete will sustain a concussion.

I believe right now that parents have to accept that doctors do not have the scientific basis to know what the effects are going to be, so I think it is important for parents and kids to know what this information is and what the limits of the information are at this point.”

According to a mom who spoke with Independent Journal Review, whose sons play sports in middle school, the school requires both parents and children to attend a concussion seminar before they are allowed to play sports:

“They put a lot of stress on the fact that they have a specific procedure that has to be followed before a child suspected of a concussion can return to playing. They also stressed that it’s individual for the child, so how another kid’s process went will have no impact on the decision.

They went over the signs of concussion and stressed to the kids the importance of reporting to a coach if they see any teammates show any signs. I definitely got the impression that they were taking the issue seriously without falling into any overreaction or overcorrection.”

Dr. Sandel tells Independent Journal Review that in medicine they look at risks versus benefits, and while the benefits are obvious, the risks of contact sports for a person with an immature brain that is still developing are not well known.

And while the doctor believes there are many benefits to children playing these types of contact sports, parents must take responsibility by being as informed as possible about concussions.

“If they are playing these sports and they do suffer a concussion, then it is absolutely essential that parents learn everything they can and know when to take their child off the field and when to allow them to play again. One of the roles I think a parent can play also is to get involved with the schools to make sure the guidelines are being followed and to raise all the important questions about whatever can be done in terms of prevention.”

There is still so much more research being done, however, Dr. Sandel says with so many children interested in playing sports, whether or not they should play is a decision parents are being forced to make.

Image Credit: Independent Journal Review
Image Credit: Independent Journal Review

Commissioner Goodell also believes the recent $100 million investment aimed at medical research and developing new technology to make the game safer for players, will provoke an immediate change within the game of football:

“We’ve made rule changes. We’ve made changes in our equipment. We’ve done things to improve the way the game is played. We’re gonna invest in research, we’re gonna invest in science. Some of that will take a few years to develop. But we think we’re changing the game today.”

One of the biggest changes comes with the NFL’s protocol:

  • When a potential concussion is identified (by a referee or coach) the player shall be removed immediately from the field.
  • The NFL team physician and the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC) will then review the video of the play and perform a focused neurological exam.
  • If there is suspicion of a concussion, the player will be escorted to the locker room for a full assessment.
  • If the player is diagnosed with a concussion, there is no same-day return to play.
  • If the player passes the exam, he will be monitored for symptoms throughout the game.

Parents shouldn’t be afraid to let their child throw on some pads and get into the game, but they should take caution and seek help if an injury does occur. As Dr. Sandel reminds us, parent must be involved and informed.

Catch the full interview between Goodell and Lauer below:

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