The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

More Needs to Be Done

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Concussions are a very real problem in the NFL and for that matter all contact sports at every level. The NFL is a "collision" sport and with violent collisions come problems, especially when they involve the body's most critical organ -- the brain. While, recently the NFL has taken up the task of advancing research into concussions and their affects, much more needs to be done to properly protect the health and welfare of players.

Most recently, studies have shown the adverse short and long term affects of concussions amongst players of all collision sports but much more needs to be learned. The NFL needs to work with the NFLPA, its doctors and medical care providers and all other collision sport leagues to conduct intensive and thorough studies into all of these areas. We need answers and we needed those decades ago. We also need remedies and changes in the way the business of football is conducted as it pertains to head injuries.

Some examples of necessary changes include the following:

The implementation of soft-shelled helmets in football. I have advocated for the imposition of soft helmet shells for players for years. It makes no sense, other than aesthetical, for players to wear shiny, hard helmets. I am not a doctor or scientist but I realize and understand that if two hard objects collide, the impact and the damage will be greater than if two soft objects collide. They might not look as modern or sleek as the current helmets but soft-shelled helmets need to implement immediately.

Another critical area that requires immediate research and remedy is in the area of post concussion syndromes and ramifications. It has been my experience that players who suffer a series of concussion are more likely to have post career depression. I have had players who were normal for their entire career only to become seriously depressed after retiring. Each suffered through a series of concussions during their playing days. There is a direct correlation here and research and remedies are required immediately.

Trainers need to be educated that concussions are serious and they must take them serious. It is not enough to ask a player if he is ok. Players are taught from as early as Pop Warner to be tough and to suck it up. These are admirable and noble qualities but there is a serious line of demarcation between pain and injury. When the meter moves into the injury quadrant of the meter then action must be taken and it is not enough for the trainer to rely on the players responses.

I had a player who was "dinged" in a harmless drill during a training camp practice a few years back. He took himself out for a few plays as I watched. There was no blood, no broken bones no symptoms or signs of trouble save for a helmet-to-helmet collision at breakneck speed. The player returned to practice and we had an engaging and nice conversation after practice. I became concerned when later that night when we had the occasion to talk that he had no recollection of our conversation and was feeling nauseous and queasy. The player was reluctant to discuss this matter with me as he took the position that it was "part of the game." I encouraged him to see the trainer the next morning and sure enough he had suffered a concussion. The team however, retuned him to the playing field when the symptoms subsided two days later only to have the player suffer a minor head to head collision, nowhere near the severity of the first such collision, which caused an immediate re-occurrence of all the concussion symptoms and problems. The player wound up missing the entire season. And but for the diligence and passion of his wife who pushed for the team to properly treat him, he might have never played football again and never fully and properly enjoyed life again.

Yes, it is time for the NFL to make significant and drastic advances in its handling of concussions and their ramifications. But it is not enough to leave it only to the league; all levels of football from Pop Warner to High schools to college football need to jump on the band wagon and assist in the creation of a return-to-play protocol, safety measures, education initiatives for players and families, treatment of post concussion syndromes and mental problems. The head and the brain are not to be taken for granted and it is the responsibility of all those who play, benefit and enjoy the fabulous American game of football to take action.

By Peter Schaffer  |  June 10, 2009; 8:33 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , Medical , Peter Schaffer Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Comments

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As a confidant, I feel I can be brutally candid with you…you’re way too harsh on the NFL The one league that has been very proactive in research and action items pertaining to concussions. Some examples:

Stringent helmet testing and significant modifications to helmet design and standards (e.g. the butt ugly Riddell Revolution, Schutt and Adams helmets have become a staple in the league, Revolutions outnumber classic Riddell’s now, and thus have proven it’s surely not about aesthetics)

Annual rules changes to enhance player safety, and in particular new rules that penalize and fine helmet-to-helmet contact or hitting of a defenseless player. As an agent, you are very aware of how this has changed the game and in fact you have personally challenged some such fines and I’ve tried to help in the appeal!

Dedicated NFL medical committee to research head trauma which has led to significant change in league’s best practices (e.g. higher on-field testing qualifiers to permit a player to return and well documented daily MTBI baseline testing subsequent to every head injury to monitor rehab and progress)

League recommendations to States to elicit change in youth and HS football programs (e.g. State of Washington legislation in 2009)

League has implemented a mandatory distribution and review of concussion symptoms to all players at least once each year, usually at the start of TC

As an aside, with heightened awareness and improved equipment and technique, the incidence of concussions had gone down in the NFL. Also, independent studies show that current management of concussions is medically appropriate, just ask Dr. Pellman. The league should be lauded on placing the spotlight on concussions and effectuating change these past 4-5 years. Your comments should probably be aimed at boxing and hockey.

Also, not to come down too hard on you, but I’m not with you on the soft helmet. If you knew you were going to enter a collision, would you want a soft helmet? Current helmet designs are changing each year. The hard shell offers the best protection. Hopefully the trend of stronger rules/fines and better technique being coached will continue the downward trend in our sport. The media has made somewhat of a spectacle of chronic brain injuries leading to long-term disabilities and even death. This is overstated and not accurate. There is no scientific evidence to support this sensationalism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that head injuries are a part of our game. They certainly are, and unfortunately injuries will always be a factor in contact sports. But the NFL is paying attention.

Posted by: JimBeam2 | June 10, 2009 6:51 PM

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