Posted on: February 16, 2012 4:31 pm

NFL says concussions down 50 percent on kickoffs

The Panthers were second in touchdbacks in 2011. So that, um, Olindo Mare signing worked? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Prior to the 2011 NFL season, the league moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line in an effort to reduce the number of injuries on kickoff returns. The result, according to Hunt Batjer, the co-chair of NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee, was a positive one.

Quite positive, in fact: Batjer told Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune that after the change, concussions were down 50 percent from the previous year.

We just got the data recently," said Batjer, the co-chair of NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee and department chair of neurological surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "It looks to me like a decreased number of runbacks played a role. It did not affect a lot of the other injuries paradoxically."

This is a pretty logical conclusion to reach, if only because of the dramatic rise in touchbacks as a result of the rule change:

Year Kickoffs Touchbacks Toucback Percentage
2,572 1,120 43.55
2,539 416 16.38
2,484 407 16.38

Yes, it is kind of crazy that 2009 and 2010 featured the exact same percentage of touchbacks. It's even crazier to see the kind of spike that we did in 2011: quite clearly the rule change was effective in limiting the amount of contact that return units had.

In 2009, the Cowboys led the league with 29 touchbacks. In 2010, Billy Cundiff and the Ravens led the league with a ridiculous 40. In 2011, 12 teams had 40 or more and only nine teams had less than 29 touchbacks.

It's an obvious effect of moving the ball forward five yards. An obvious effect of that is less contact, with the final obvious effect being less concussions.

The end result is that you shouldn't expect to see the NFL move kickoffs back to the 30-yard line any time soon.

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Posted on: February 3, 2012 5:14 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 7:00 pm

How do we keep our youth football players safe?

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By Josh Katzowitz

INDIANAPOLIS -- Before he was even finished with his opening statement Friday, Chris Nowinski -- former Harvard football player, former WWE professional wrestler and current advocate for concussion research and prevention -- summed up his entire reason for holding a press conference on recognizing and averting brain injury.

“The question is this,” Nowinski said, “How many times should a 6-year-old be hit in the head for sport?”

If you don’t care about concussions for NFL players --or if you kick in your TV when an official flags a defender for unnecessary roughness on a helmet-to-helmet hit -- the sentence above should give you pause.

If you feel like it’s OK that the Browns allowed Colt McCoy to reenter a game after suffering a head injury and that it’s OK former tight end Ben Utecht is already having major problems with post-concussion syndrome and that it’s OK teams can hedge their bets by calling an in-game concussion a “stinger,” maybe you should think about your own child playing football.

Do you still think it’s OK that your 6-year-old might be suffering multiple concussions in a season? At least the NFL players can make the choice. The 6-year-old can’t.

That’s why the Sports Legacy Institute and Nowinski as president CEO held a press conference Friday to announce a proposal that would assign a “hit count” to a football player in the same way a “pitch count” is assigned to a youth pitcher.

As Nowinski says, science doesn’t know the answer to how many head hits it takes to cause permanent brain damage, in the same way that science doesn’t know how many cigarettes it takes to cause lung cancer. But the SLI's goal is to determine a standard number this year and then convince youth sports league by 2013 to turn that figure into permanent policy.

“We need to make aware that hits to the head have serious consequences,” Nowinski said. “It’s not being addressed at the youth level when brains are most vulnerable.”

One problem: I’ve never gotten the impression NFL players care much about their long-term health when they’re playing the game, and when I talked to a number of Super Bowl participants last year, I got the impression that players didn’t feel the need to keep their kids away from the game either.

The players know the dangers; they apparently just don’t have a problem putting their kids in harm’s way. Isaac Kacyvenski and Colts center Jeff Saturday disagreed with me Friday. They said players do, in fact, care.

“I have the exact opposite reaction from talking to players,” said Kacyvenski, the former NFL linebacker who was a 2006 Seahawks Super Bowl co-captain. “We’ve had discussions at length with players who are worried behind the scenes. They're worried about their future. The long-term consequences are unclear.”

Saturday, who along with Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is supporting the SLI and its initiatives, agreed with Kacyvenski: “I don’t know many football players who go with what you’re saying. I haven’t seen it.”

Saturday, on the other hand, was concerned enough about the issue to forbid his son from playing padded football until he turned 11. Before then, his boy played flag football. That’s because, as Saturday explained to his kids, it’s daddy’s job to play this high-risk, high-reward game. Football, he says, is supposed to be fun for you. So, if you’re scared, don’t take the head shot. Let it go, because it’s not a big deal.

Saturday, simply put, has to know (and he does) that he’s advocating for his children. Frankly, that’s the kind of attitude I expected to hear when I asked some Packers and Steelers last year. I expected the debate that Saturday and Kacyvenski gave me on Friday.

“In the NFL, a ton of it is awareness,” Saturday said. “We want our men to know, these are the symptoms we need to look for. I’m a 36-year-old man and I can tell you when I have a headache that’s not going away, I’m not sleeping as well, I don’t feel as good. Six-year-olds or 8-year-olds or 10-year-olds, they’re just going to deal with it. They want to go play in the yard. They’re not going to tell you, ‘I’m restless and cranky.’ They don’t communicate in the same way. They don’t know always how to process the information. You have to take it out of their hands.”

Nowinski is quick to point out that the public's brain injury awareness has exploded in the past five years, but when players like Rob Gronkowski or Brian Urlacher say they’d lie to doctors to hide a concussion, that doesn’t do his cause any favors.

“Everybody is accountable,” Nowinski said. “The reality is we’re talking about dramatic culture change. We’re talking somewhat about redefining manhood.”

And if the next generation of players aren’t as good as their predecessors because they’ve devoted less time to padded practice, that’s OK by him.

“If we create a generation of slightly worse tacklers with dramatically healthier brains, that’s a win,” Nowinski said. “I’ll live with that.”

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Posted on: December 22, 2011 12:40 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2011 12:41 pm

NFL sends memo to teams on new concussion policy

The NFL wants to make sure trainers don't miss hits like the one on McCoy. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The NFL is instituting a new in-game concussion protocol beginning in Week 16, as first reported by CBS Sports Charley Casserly, and as previously mentioned on The NFL Today by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Under this policy, certified athletic trainers will be present at all games in order to ensure players that suffer concussions aren't at risk to return to games following their potential brain injury.

On Wednesday, the NFL sent a memo to all its clubs detailing two changes that will take place beginning on Thursday night.

"First, we have arranged for a certified athletic trainer to be at each game to monitor play of both teams and provide medical staffs with any relevant information that may assist them in determining the most appropriate evaluation and treatment," the memo reads. "This athletic trainer will be stationed in a booth upstairs with access to video replay and direct communication to the medical staffs of both teams. In most cases, the athletic trainer will be affiliated with a major college program in the area or will have previously been affiliated with an NFL club."

However, the NFL noted that this trainer will not "diagnose or prescribe treatment, nor have any authority to direct that a player be removed from the game." The role of the trainer will be to "provide information to team medical staffs" in the event that said staffs missed a potential concussion or injury as a result of other action/injuries taking place.

Additionally, the NFL noted that medical staff will be allowed to use cell phones going forward when taking care of a player who was injured.

"Second, club medical staffs will be permitted to use their cell phones during games for purposes of obtaining information relating to the care of an injured player," the memo reads. "This is not limited to concussions and is intended to assist team medical staffs in addressing a variety of injuries."

There are sure to be plenty of snide comments made whenever a member of the Patriots staff fires up a cell phone (see: Gate of Spy), but the reality is that the NFL's taking a significant and important step in attempting to reduce the negative effect of concussions on its players.

Football players who suffer traumatic brain injuries (the not-as-nice name for concussions) are significantly more likely to sustain long-term brain damage if they suffer another concussion soon thereafter. And there's simply nothing safe about having someone on the field who can't process what's going during a play because of suffering a brain injury.
It's nice to see the league taking positive steps towards limiting the exposure to brain damage for its players.

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Posted on: December 20, 2011 11:58 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 3:13 pm

Ex-NFL TE Ben Utecht suffering memory loss at 30

By Will Brinson

Ben Utecht's career in the NFL ended early -- after suffering his fifth concussion (that he knows of) during training camp in 2009, Utecht retired and is already, at the young age of 30, dealing with bouts of memory loss that are likely attributed to the brain damage he suffered while in the NFL.

Utecht, a talented singer, told USA Today's Erik Brady that what he's doing now, touring as a musician, is a "dream come true," but that he's growing concerned about the health of his brain.

"Will I experience early-onset dementia in my 50s? Will I experience more issues with amnesia or headaches or behavioral changes? All of these things are consequences of brain injury," Utecht said. "I think now that I'm aware of them — especially now that I'm the father of three beautiful little girls — it's definitely in my heart and on my mind. I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't."

Utecht's wife, Karen, recalled a day when the former tight end wondered to some close friends why he didn't attend their wedding a few years back. But Utecht was wrong. He had been at the wedding -- in the wedding, in fact -- but couldn't remember it.

The couple also note a number of other instances during daily life where Utetch simply couldn't remember basic events about his daily life.

And remember, Utecht is only 30. It's a terrifying story, but absolutely worth a read, and a reminder of exactly how debilitating the brain damage football players suffer really can be.

Via MDS at PFT

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Posted on: July 7, 2011 1:00 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2011 1:11 pm

Austin Collie talks concussions, NFL future

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Colts wide receiver Austin Collie suffered three concussions last season before he was eventually placed on injured reserve Dec. 22, days after he was knocked out a game against the Jaguars.

In May, Collie told the Indianapolis Star that he was feeling good and had no plans to retire. On Wednesday, Collie appeared on KHTK to discuss -- what else -- concussions. When asked what it was like running patterns across the middle with all the head injuries in the league last year, Collie was frank.

“I think I have kind of put that behind me. I don’t like to dwell on it too much just because it can affect your play going across the middle and catching another ball," he said, according to Sports Radio Interviews. "You don’t want things like that popping up in your mind. I try to ignore any thought I do have of it. I don’t want to watch it. People want to show me and ask how I felt during that time and what not. I just kind of brush it aside because it is one of those things that it is in the past and it’s unfortunate. I was unlucky, but I’m just looking forward to this next season and getting on with it.”

Collie, 25, was then asked if concussions scared him at this point in his career. “Not really," he said. "If it was one of those things that I had a history of concussions and now I’m getting worse or more-and-more frequent then it would definitely be a worry of mine in the near future, but I’ve known players who play with nine or 10 concussions and who have lived on to have successful careers and haven’t had any symptoms later on in life, so again everyone is different. Everyone handles each injury different and hopefully down the road it’ll be perfectly fine."

Just hearing Collie mention "nine or 10 concussions" makes us uncomfortable. Especially in light of what the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell wrote in October 2009:

Price of concussions

"This is a crucial point. Much of the attention in the football world in the past few years has been on concussions — on diagnosing, managing and preventing them — and on figuring out how many concussions a player can have before he should call it quits. But a football player’s real issue isn’t simply with repetitive concussive trauma. It is, as the concussion specialist Robert Cantu argues, with repetitive subconcussive trauma. It’s not just the handful of big hits that matter. It’s lots of little hits, too."

You'd think it would be reason enough to mandate that all players wear the safest helmets currently manufactured, and to never again speak of an 18-game schedule.

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Posted on: June 7, 2011 6:01 pm
Edited on: June 7, 2011 10:14 pm

NFL trying to help prevent youth concussions

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Though many NFL players would claim the league doesn’t care all that much about preventing and treating concussions – and until last season, that wasn’t necessarily false* - it seems like the leadership DOES care about the youth of America.

That’s why the NFL put out a release this afternoon detailing that it’s teaming up with the NCAA to advocate for state legislation throughout the country that would “prevent and properly treat concussions among youth athletes.”

*It is hard to rectify, though, the call for 18 games from the league’s owners if they truly cared about cutting down on head injuries.

Preventing concussions
The precedent that the NFL and NCAA point toward is in Washington State, where the Zackery Lystedt law was passed. That law, passed in 2009, states that athletes, parents and coaches must be educated about concussions each year; athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion must sit out from a practice or a game; and a “licensed health care profession” must clear that athlete to play before he/she can return.

The law is named after a youth football player who returned to a game following a concussion and then suffered life-threatening injuries.

“We are pleased that (NCAA president Mark) Emmert and the NCAA will support our campaign and add visibility to this issue not only with football but also with the other 22 NCAA sports for the benefit of young athletes and their families,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We have learned that while concussions certainly are a challenge in football that it is equally important that young athletes in many other sports be educated on this subject as well.”

It’s awesome that the NFL and the NCAA can work together so splendidly to come up with a solution to what has been a long-simmering problem. Now, if only the NFL and the NFLPA could get along so well.

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Category: NFL
Posted on: April 29, 2011 12:09 pm

Manning says he was kidding about concussion test

Posted by Andy Benoit

Earlier this week we passed along a quote from an ESPN article about the Manning Brothers and Archie in which Peyton Manning said he intentionally tanked his preseason concussion test. Manning made the comments during a chat between the three quarterbacks and 100 patrons who paid to attend the casual function.
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Manning’s words transcribed in the article made it hard to tell whether the Colts quarterback was joking or not. On Friday, in an interview with Mike Chappell of the Indy Star, Manning said he was indeed joking.

"Not true; I wouldn't do that," Manning said of tanking a test. "I understand the seriousness of concussions. Our job was to be entertaining to the crowd. Got some laughs out of it, but it was really unfortunate."

Unfortunate because the function prohibited cameras and recorders. In other words, they wanted minimal media attention, presumably in an effort to avoid a controversy exactly like the one they got.

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Posted on: April 27, 2011 11:01 am

Is Peyton Manning tanking his concussion test?

Posted by Andy Benoit

We recently passed along a report from Alex Marvez of Fox Sports about how some NFL players are tanking their preseason baseline concussion test in order to make it easier to pass a real concussion test later in the season. One player who may have admitted to doing this is Peyton Manning.

In an ESPN.com chat with Eli and Archie, Peyton was asked,” How do you feel about all the new research about concussions that's coming out?” It’s hard to tell if his response is serious, humorous or both. You can judge for yourself:

“They have these new [brain] tests we have to take,” Peyton said.  “Before the season, you have to look at 20 pictures and turn the paper over and then try to draw those 20 pictures.  And they do it with words, too.  Twenty words, you flip it over, and try to write those 20 words.  Then, after a concussion, you take the same test and if you do worse than you did on the first test, you can’t play.  So I just try to do badly on the first test.”

[Archie slaps his forehead again.]

If this story gains some legs, expect Manning to issue a clarifying statement at some point. The NFL certainly doesn't want it's marquee star mocking or discrediting the new emphasis on player safety.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com