SBD/February 4, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Forms Partnership With GE To Further Research In Detecting, Preventing Concussions

New equipment could help treat athletes such as Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
The NFL, faced with “increasing concern about the toll of concussions and confronted with litigation involving thousands of former players, is planning to form a partnership with General Electric to jump-start development of imaging technology that would detect concussions and encourage the creation of materials to better protect the brain,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. The four-year initiative, which “is expected to begin in March with at least $50 million from the league and GE, is the result of a late October conversation” between Commissioner Roger Goodell and GE Chair & CEO Jeffrey Immelt. When Goodell “explained his idea of getting leading companies in innovation to join the NFL to accelerate research, Immelt said he wanted to help.” Goodell said, “It could be a seismic shift in the sense of great organizations coming together to solve important problems for society. That’s a good thing.” Battista reported the expectation is “that new technologies could spring from the collaboration within a few years.” The initiative will be “two-pronged.” The first part, financed “by at least $30 million over four years, will focus on specializing imaging equipment to detect head trauma.” The hope is that the machines “could forecast who might sustain concussions, and then show in real time the degree of brain injury and recovery.” That could “provide guidance on when it is safe to return players to games.” The second element of the project “aims to improve helmets and other protective devices by, essentially, crowd sourcing for solutions.” GE would “run, with an initial investment of $20 million, what it calls an innovation challenge, asking inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and academicians to submit ideas for how safety equipment could be improved.” The most promising ideas “would be selected, financed and brought to market, opening the field to ideas that have not sprung from GE or helmet manufacturers” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/2).

SMITH EXAMPLE A COMPLEX ONE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Les Carpenter noted Goodell on Friday during his State of the League address “kept talking about the need for players to be honest with doctors when they get a concussion, but when confronted with the case of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith who was upfront about his concussions, missed a game and lost his job, the commissioner didn't have a good answer.” Carpenter: “There isn't one. Football safety and football culture will forever butt heads” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/1). ESPN's John Saunders noted that players claim head injuries are part of what they signed up for by playing football. Saunders: “But they didn’t. They signed up to play football and did so without knowing the facts. If someone told their parents that long-term exposure may cause severe brain injury, would they be as quick to let their children play? Alex Smith did just what the new policy told him he should do. Where did it get him? A place on the bench watching the Super Bowl and a ticket out of San Francisco. Signing up says money and fame. What if it also said, ‘May cause dementia, depression or suicide’? Even cigarettes come with a warning label” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 2/3). CSNBAYAREA.com’s Ray Ratto wrote under the header, “Roger Goodell Becoming ‘Concussion Commissioner.’” Goodell on Friday did his “usual hour of what he daintily described at one point as ‘reflecting positively on The Shield.’” Goodell’s administration is “coming to be defined by the dichotomy of prettying up a game that was designed to be its very antithesis.” Ratto: “In short, he is trying to hide what he is selling” (CSNBAYAREA.com, 2/1).

GAME NOT GOING ANYWHERE: ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha wrote, “Football will be fine. It's going through a difficult time. It's facing major challenges likes it's never seen before. But it's not going anywhere. The game will only grow stronger.” The truth is that football "means more to us than any other sport, and that's not going to change because of today's current issues.” But change “has to come.” There is “too much finger pointing, too many lawyers maneuvering to score major dollars for disgruntled retirees and too many sad, suicidal stories.” The game “must become tamer because too many current players don't think they'll end up like those battered men after football.” In many ways, they “do need to be saved from their own well-conditioned impulses.” The real challenge for Goodell is “making sure the heart of the game isn't surrendered in the midst of all these changes.” That is the “key to the entire sport's future” (ESPN.com, 2/1). CBS' Jim Nantz said he believes there is "no question there’s a link" between football and concussions, but there is "still a lot more research to be conducted to find out exactly how soon these athletes come back to perform." Nantz: "Do they come back too soon? Do they put them back in the game too soon? I really applaud what Roger’s been doing. I know there’s been an outcry about it (from) players around the league -- trying to make the game too safe, it’s taken away a contact sport. But I really believe he is trying to look after the future, not only of the sport, but also of these individuals. Somebody cries about he’s penalized or fined too much, but what they don’t realize is there are thousands of people right now lined up with lawsuits against the league. Talk to them about what their later life is like after football. He’s trying to look after your later life” ("Face The Nation," CBS, 2/3).
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