NFL commissioner says sport will evolve, get safer

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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"The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than player safety mentality. Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries," he said, telling the story of a family friend with a 15-year-old daughter who hid a concussion because she didn't want to come out of a field hockey game.

"It's the warrior mentality — in a 15-year-old girl. This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience, and determination."

Goodell said that his twin daughters play middle school lacrosse and soccer.

"I am concerned for their safety," he said. "I want them to play, but I want them to play for coaches who know how to teach proper techniques and who are trained in the safety of their sport."

Research has shown that repeated hits to the head, even those that do not cause concussions, can cause brain damage in players in contact sports, including football, hockey and boxing. Dr. Robert Stern, one of the researchers who has been looking into brain damage caused by concussions, said the steps the league has taken are "making a huge difference."

But the changes are coming too late for thousands of former players who claim the NFL withheld information on the damage concussions can do to their long-term health. More than 3,500 former players — including at least 26 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — have sued the NFL, saying not enough was done to inform them about the dangers of concussions, and not enough is being done today to take care of them.

Asked about former players, Goodell said, "It's no secret that we have challenges in that area." But he noted that the league has worked with former players on other medical problems: paying for joint replacements if they can't afford them and warning of the dangers of cardiovascular disease if they stop working out once they stop playing.

"We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field," Goodell said. "So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable."

Goodell also claimed that it is only more recently that the danger of repeated concussions has been understood. Leadership, he said, "means facing up to your challenges and working tirelessly to make sure you make the right choices, for the right reasons, based on science and facts, not speculation."

Another audience member asked Goodell if the four-game preseason, with talk of an 18-game regular-season schedule, undermined his claims of concern for player safety. Goodell said the league had an option in the former collective bargaining agreement to go to a 20-game schedule, but chose not to.

The exhibition season may be shortened, he said — but not because of player safety.

"It just does not meet the standard of quality that the NFL is all about," he said.