The League

Jason Maloni
Crisis Communications Expert

Jason Maloni

Senior Vice President with
Levick Strategic Communications
and Chair of the firm's Sports & Entertainment Practice.

Leadership Needed From 280 Park Ave

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I find the National Football League's stance on head injuries and the potential link to increased rates of dementia in former players perplexing. It reminds me of the former Iraqi Minister of Information who appeared on television to deny that the Americans were in Baghdad as U.S. tanks were rumbling in the background. For an organization so savvy at growing its brand, and so progressive when it comes to enforcing standards for player conduct on and off the field, the league is dangerously close to losing a substantial amount of credibility for its apparent stonewalling on this issue.

Let's assume that Dr. Omalu [noted neuropathologist Bennet Omalu, who has studied brain injuries to football players] and the others are right. What should we be doing differently? ... No one has any suggestions -- assuming you aren't saying no more football, because, let's be honest, that's not going to happen.''

-- Ira Casson, one of the co-chairmen of an NFL committee on brain injuries to football players, as quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in the October 19 issue of The New Yorker.

I can just hear the cacophony of keypads now as USA youth soccer officials tweet that quote to every soccer mom from New York to LA.

The fact that Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing is missing key witnesses from the NFL research team for on brain injuries is not encouraging.

Two-Eighty Park Avenue needs to move quickly to take a leadership role on this issue not just for the 8- years-old playing Pop Warner but for the current NFL players who, I'm sure, hope that the game cares about their quality of life after football as much as during their careers.

Five things the National Football League needs to do now to get ahead of this crisis:
1) Don't reduce hitting in the game, but reduce hitting to the head. The game will lose none of its bite if the hits are to the body.
2) Include disparate voices in the ongoing study of these injuries. A wider sample of players is required and more research is required. The NFL needs to be at the forefront of this research, not weighing in with unscientific phone surveys.
3) Invest in better equipment, particularly for defensive lineman and linebackers. Helmet makers are turning out better and better products each year but the NFL needs get behind a special effort to create better concussion-reducing equipment.
4) Increase the fines for players wearing loose-fitting helmets or not wearing chinstraps. At some point monetary fines become meaningless. Start benching repeat offenders.
5) Penalize coaches and trainers who put players on the field who are suffering from concussion symptoms. When someone's certification is on the line, they tend to make better decisions.

Only by showing leadership can the NFL win this one. In sports, as in business, sometimes that's a tall order.

By Jason Maloni  |  October 28, 2009; 6:04 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , Medical , NFL , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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