SBD/December 6, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Reaction To Concussions By Goodell, NFL Featured In Time Cover Story

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in simultaneously aspiring to keep the NFL both highly lucrative and safe for the players, is "trying to pull off, in his words, a 'balancing act' that will define his legacy," according to a cover story by Sean Gregory of TIME magazine. Can he "preserve the core of a game that is our national obsession -- and a hugely profitable business -- while responsibly addressing the mounting evidence that the sport can shatter lives?" After "years of downplaying the dangers of concussions, the NFL has instituted policies and rules to reduce the risk of long-term injury." But things "like sanctions for dangerous hits -- especially the punishment handed down to the New Orleans Saints for allegedly running a bounty system that gave cash rewards for injuring opposing players -- and stricter return-to-play guidelines after concussions are just the beginning of a safety-first orientation." The "final verdict on the player-safety debate may be beyond Goodell's control" as the NFL is being "sued by some 4,000 ex-players, plus nearly 1,500 of their spouses and children, who allege that the league 'deliberately ignored and actively concealed' information about concussions for decades." The NFL is "trying to get the suit tossed out of court and denies deliberately causing harm." But "no one can deny that a spate of football players who either suffered from symptoms of depression and dementia later in their lives or killed themselves have been diagnosed" with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). If football does not "become a safer game, more parents will likely prevent their kids -- the NFL's future players and fans -- from playing." Goodell "insists his motives for the safety measures are pure." He said, "I don't do things for public relations. I do things because they're the right thing to do, because I love the game." 

RESPONSIBLE REACTION TO CONCUSSIONS: Goodell acknowledges fans can "always look back and say it could have been done faster." But he "argues that the NFL's reaction to concussions has been 'very responsible.'" He also said that if the league had "put into effect stricter return-to-play rules earlier, players might not have reported their symptoms since the dangers of concussions are clearer now than they used to be." While Goodell will not "take sides on the medical debate about concussions, he now acknowledges that football may do damage." He said, "It doesn't take a lot to jump to the conclusion that constant banging in the head is not going to be in your best interest." Gregory notes the rule changes will not "do much for damaged former players (or dead ones and their widows)." To them, Goodell's reforms are a "painful reminder that the NFL could have taken such precautions years ago and maybe saved them from the memory loss, depression and other ailments they suffer today." Goodell "argues that the NFL is doing right by these injured players." For instance, Goodell points to the last CBA, which "includes $1 billion set aside for retired players." Goodell: "How many industries do that? Go back to people that are no longer involved in the business? I salute the owners and salute the players for doing that -- $620 million of that was in pension benefits alone. So those are very, very significant improvements. We'll try to do more. Can I solve the problems for everybody? I don't think that's possible" (TIME, 12/17 issue).

AUTHOR REFLECTIONS: Time's Gregory this morning noted Goodell addressed numerous topics in the story, including the murder-suicide involving Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher. Gregory said when Goodell heard the news about Belcher, “he was stunned.” Gregory: “He knew that there was pressure not to play the game and there were thoughts on that side. He reached out to (Chiefs Chair Clark Hunt) ... and told them to please seek feedback from the players. He basically deferred to the players, and the feedback he says he was getting was that the players wanted to play. Five days, four days later, it seems like it was probably the right thing to do.” CNN’s Carol Costello noted critics "might say the real reason was money, they wanted to play the game because the NFL is a money machine." Costello: "Is that too cynical?” Gregory: “That's a fair argument to make, and he will say and has said it's not about money. No matter what you think of him, he's pretty strong in his convictions … and he doesn't really look back or apologize or regret stuff.” Gregory attended an NFL game with Goodell and the experience "was fairly positive.” Goodell “gets his criticism” from fans when he is in public, but he is "very good at listening to it, smiling and not fighting back." Gregory: "People flock to him. He does have a presence about him and he hugs a lot of people. Whatever you think of him, he's got that politician’s touch to kind of tussle hair, give hugs, shake hands and he's the son of a senator. That has rubbed off on him” (“CNN Newsroom,” CNN, 12/6).
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