NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent an open letter to fans Thursday, pledging that the league will continue to take measures to increase player safety without changing the product fans have come to love.
In the letter, Goodell wrote, “As a league, we have an unwavering commitment to player health and making out game safer at all levels. This is, and will remain, our top priority. We hope that our commitment to safety will set an example for all sports.”
Goodell gave fans something of a history lesson, claiming that player safety has been important to the league all the way back in its formative days 100 years ago – a contention many former players have vehemently disputed. Goodell said that the NFL is continuing to expand its commitment to safety with its Competition Committee and medical advisors finding new ways to attempt to eliminate the kind of injuries that can end careers and cause undue bodily harm. That has included eliminating the head slap in the 1970s, the practice of clubbing a player in the 1980s, penalizing those who hit defensive players, and the elimination of the horse-collar tackle.
With the additional precautions being taken, Goodell believes that NFL players have as much access to information and protocol for post-concussion testing as any group of employees in the country.
“One of the most important aspects of safety is providing players with the best possible medical care,” Goodell said. “We work closely with the NFL Players Association to ensure our players have access to the finest doctors and most cutting-edge technology. In fact, a large part of our current collective bargaining agreement with the players is devoted to health and safety protections.”
Among the changes that have been made in recent years is to have neurotrauma specialists not affiliated with any teams on the sidelines of games to assist team medical staffs in player evaluations, independent physicians on the sidelines who must approve allowing a player back into a game or, if a concussion is diagnosed, when he can return to practice, and providing teams with the latest technology on the sidelines to better diagnose concussions and other injuries.
Goodell said the commitment goes beyond the NFL to college, high school and youth football. The league started the “Heads Up Football” training program to teach youngsters about the proper technique in tackling and not lowering their helmets, which is the cause of many injuries at all levels of football. In its first year, more than 600,000 kids have been registered in the Head’s Up program.
For players who worked in the NFL before the safety advancements were made, it’s too late for them to access the greater understanding of the long-term impacts of concussions, but for those currently playing and those who will play in the future, Goodell believes the NFL’s commitment to safety will protect players while not taking away the basic components of the game that have made it the No. 1 fan-supported professional sport in the country.
“Football will remain the hard-hitting physical sport that you love,” Goodell said. “We will continue to be vigilant in seeking ways to make the game even better and safer. The future of football is brighter, bigger, better and more exciting than ever.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.