By Will Stevenson
“There is no higher priority for the NFL than player heath and safety and we continually seek to raise our standards and then surpass them” – Roger Goodell
I loved football as a youngster. I loved the running game, deep passes, big hits, and shutdown corners. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to grow weary of a game I used to salivate over on every level. With each crushing blow, I wince harder, and rather than thinking, “That’s a great hit”, I lean more towards, “I wonder how he’ll be feeling on Tuesday morning.” Since Roger Goodell has become the commissioner and figure-head of the NFL, he has fought to bring order and continue the upward revenue for the league. From his dealings with Michael Vick and “Bounty Gate”, to domestic violence, Goodell has seen his good days and bad. With the Personal Conduct Policy only going to a low percentage of the players in the NFL, there is one issue that he cannot avoid, nor hope it just falls by the wayside: Concussions.
I remember when Mohammed Mossaqui of the Cleveland Browns was knocked out by linebacker James Harrison as he caught a ball over the middle, catching the eye of every media outlet on the conversation of “Big Hits”. I remember a linebacker stumbling off the field, and then attempting to get back on the field after it seemed he had no idea where he was. I even remember when the “NFL’s Big Hits” were marketing on the NFL’s website, while the league was fining players left and right for illegal hits. NFL Countdown discontinued their most popular segment of “Jacked Up”, and conversation continued after the death of Junior Seau.
Although I have been, and will continue to be skeptical of the NFL having concussions and all other player injuries at the center of their concern, they are doing what all public businesses should do in this public relations climate: Upgrade your staff. After the concussion lawsuit, which wasn’t nearly enough, the NFL has repeatedly told us that player safety is the main issue they want to continue to address. They have not trimmed the season to 14 games, but they have made kickoff returns virtually impossible, given strict striking options for receivers and quarterbacks, and made the “defenseless receiver” a household adjective. The NFL desperately needed to upgrade their medical staff for the future of their players.
With the hiring of Dr. Allen Sills as the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, he brings a noteworthy checklist:
- He is a Neurosurgeon
- Professor of Neurological Surgery
- Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation
- Founder and Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center
That sounds pretty good right? I cannot sit here and criticize the hiring at this moment, because I don’t have any evidence at this time that this hire will be a failure. I do wonder what his role will be specifically. At this moment, his role is vague, which it should be, but I would imagine they already have plans in the works for this new position. What will be the issues Dr. Sills and the NFL medical staff will tackle for the upcoming season? Will they continue to tinker with specific on-the-field habits? Will they be able to adapt helmets, pads and various player equipment even though they have deals in place? Will they look at the 16 game schedule and the horrific scheduling around Thursday Night games? Will they look at practicing habits and the old-school way of thinking when it comes to mandatory off-season workouts and preparation? Will marijuana ever be the norm and prescription drugs be run out of the NFL?
I know, wishful thinking. I cannot tip my cap, nor throw it at Roger Goodell for this hire. So for the moment, we will wait and see what comes next for the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer. I hope his interests are with the players of the NFL, not the Owners of the NFL, because we’ve seen how those in power lean towards the interests of the NFL Owners.
Again, wishful thinking.