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Steinberg: NFL concussion settlement offers hope for reform

Earlier today, Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody announced in Philadelphia that the NFL and 4,500 former players had reached a settlement in the lawsuit accusing the NFL of not warning players of the risk and suppressing studies that showed damage to players.

I have written for months that this suit would never see the trial courtroom. This is because the NFL would have been compelled to reveal information that might have shown they knew of the risk involved with concussions and willingly chose to hide it from their own players.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell deserves praise for finally acknowledging through the settlement that the NFL has an obligation to try to protect the health and safety of players. He didn't create the years of denial on this issue, and has been part of the solution.

It has been reported, the NFL has reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.

Full details are yet to come, but financial relief will be distributed to former players that will help them deal with the consequences of these hits.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of the settlement is that it frees the NFL to be more active on this issue.

I have called concussion injury a ticking time bomb and undiagnosed health epidemic for years. Each play starts with an offensive lineman hitting a defensive lineman — an act that can produce a low-level concussive episode. These are never diagnosed nor recorded.

A lineman who plays in high school, collegiate and professional football may leave the game with 10,000 of these sub-concussive hits, with aggregate damage more consequential than three knockout blows. This knowledge presents a proximate threat to football as it is now played.

The concussion litigation put the NFL under a microscope and made them view reform in light of how it exposed their liability for the past. Now the NFL is free to aggressively address this issue.

The first avenue of attack is prevention. This involves teaching players from an early age to avoid using the head and neck in blocking and tackling. Aggressive enforcement of rules is necessary.

More funding is needed to explore prophylactic medicines that can prepare the brain to resist the hit.

Our advanced technology that can send a space probe to Mars needs to focus on helmetry that can attenuate the energy wave delivered in a hit and dissipate it.

Once the blow has occurred, there are more accurate diagnostic tools now available to accurately chart damage while the player is on the sidelines. They make return-to-play decisions more protective.

Medical researchers, like the Prevacus group, have medicine which can be taken right after the hit to minimize the consequences.

More research needs to be undertaken into medicine that can cure the brain once multiple concussions have occurred.

These issues are not limited to football. Soccer, hockey, cycling, and virtually all sports that have collision potential produce these hits.

Adolescents are at the highest level of risk.

The NFL is far and away the most popular spectator sport in this country, so it has a symbolic power to lead the way on this issue. Now they are free to help raise awareness and fund prevention and treatment that will save millions from an injury that affects what it means to be human.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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