Throughout the 2012 season and into the offseason, the NFL has continued to make strides in matters pertaining to health and safety. Through key partnerships, commitments to research and continued advocacy, the NFL is working to help ensure a safer experience for its players, athletes in all sports and the general population.
Last September, the NFL announced a $30 million grant in unrestricted funding to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) for medical research, with a focus on advancing the science and medical understanding of brain injuries. This grant marked the NFL's single largest donation to any organization in the league's history.
The grant is being overseen by The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and one of the world's foremost medical research centers. The funding and research are designed to benefit athletes and the general population, including members of the military.
With this contribution, the NFL became the founding donor to the NIH Sports and Health Research Program (SHRP), which will be conducted in collaboration with institutes and centers at the NIH.
Areas being prioritized for research include chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), concussion management and treatment, and the understanding of the potential relationship between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and late-life neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease.
In addition to brain research, NFL funding has been dedicated to important health areas such as sudden cardiac death in young athletes, heat and hydration-related illness, chronic degenerative joint disease as a result of athletic injuries, the transition from acute to chronic pain, and the detection and health effects of performance enhancing substances, including human growth hormone (HGH).
The NIH -- via the SHRP -- is currently reviewing grant proposals from experts in neuropathology on CTE and the delayed effects of TBI, as well as sports-related TBI and spinal cord injury. The highest rated proposals will be presented to the institute's advisory council in October so that research can begin later this fall.
"We are encouraged by the momentum the SHRP team is building in such a short time with the announcement of these pioneering new research initiatives," says MARIA FREIRE, Ph.D., President of the FNIH. "Thanks to the generosity of the NFL, the program will provide us with invaluable data and ultimately ways to prevent and treat injuries in ways that will benefit athletes and non-athletes alike."
In March, the NFL joined with GE to announce Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration to improve diagnosis, prognosis and treatment for traumatic brain injury. The goal of the research and innovation program, guided by scientific and medical experts, is to improve the safety of athletes, members of the military and society overall. Of the $60 million committed, the NFL and GE are investing $40 million towards a research program and the development of improved technology that aims to increase the accuracy of traumatic brain injury diagnosis. Additionally, GE, the NFL and Under Armour also committed up to $20 million to two open innovation challenges to find and fund ideas to develop new solutions to diagnose and protect against TBI.
"GE is a leader in developing sophisticated diagnostic imaging technology, but for all the advances in science, our knowledge of the brain is far behind that of nearly every other organ in the body," said GE Chairman and CEO JEFF IMMELT (above, on right with Commissioner Goodell) at the announcement. "With this initiative, we will advance our research and apply our learning to sports-related concussions, brain injuries suffered by members of the military and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Advancing brain science will help families everywhere."
The research program is being guided by an advisory board consisting of a cross-disciplinary team of medical professionals from various institutions, including DR. RICHARD ELLENBOGEN, co-chair of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee, and DR. RUSSELL LONSER, a committee member.
From March through August, proposals were accepted for the first challenge on biomarkers and algorithms that address identification of traumatic brain injury. The second challenge is to seek proposals for new materials and technologies that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and new tools for tracking head impacts in real time. Proposals can be submitted at www.NFLGEBrainChallenge.com.
"As longstanding partners of the NFL, we recognize the magnitude of this initiative and the impact it will have for athletes at all levels," says KEVIN PLANK, founder and CEO of Under Armour. "We take great pride in supporting this effort to reward new ideas and breakthrough concepts in this space, particularly as it applies to protecting athletes and influencing positive change in sports."
The winners of the first challenge will be selected by a panel of external judges that include healthcare experts in brain research, imaging technologies and advocates for advances in brain research. The judging panel includes DR. WALTER KOROSHETZ, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the NIH, and General PETER CHIARELLI (Ret.), Chief Executive Officer of One Mind for Research and a retired four-star General with 40 years of experience designing and implementing American defense policy for the U.S. Army and Department of Defense.
Beyond research, the NFL is also continuing its commitment to helping create a safer environment for youth athletes as they play the sports they love.
The NFL remains active in advocating for passage of youth concussion laws in each state. As of July, 48 states and Washington, D.C, have passed such laws. Since the start of the 2012 NFL season, the following states have passed youth concussion laws:
Michigan (signed into law October 2012); Ohio (signed into law December 2012); Arkansas (signed into law April 2013); Tennessee (signed into law April 2013); Montana (signed into law April 2013); Georgia (signed into law April 2013); West Virginia (signed into law May 2013); and South Carolina (signed into law June 2013).
These laws are designed to protect young athletes from concussions and brain injuries. Each law includes three core principles requiring:
1) A concussion information sheet be provided each year to all coaches, volunteers, student athletes and parents/legal guardians before a student athlete is permitted to participate in an athletic competition or practice.
2) The immediate removal of a student athlete from practice or competition if the player is suspected of sustaining a concussion or brain injury.
3) A student athlete who has been removed from play and who is suspected of having a concussion or brain injury may not return to play until the player receives written medical clearance by a licensed health care professional trained in the evaluation and management of concussions.
Many youth concussion laws are modeled after the LYSTEDT LAW, which was passed in Washington in 2009. Zackery Lystedt's life changed in 2006 after sustaining a brain injury. Since then, Zackery (left, with Commissioner Goodell and his father Victor) and his family have worked to advocate for the safety of student athletes through their work urging all states to adopt the Lystedt Law.
The NFL and its clubs have worked with governors and state legislators to advocate for the adoption of the Lystedt Law across the country. In many states, NFL executives including Atlanta Falcons President & CEO RICH MC KAY and Carolina Panthers General Counsel RICHARD THIGPEN have spoken in support of the legislation. In addition, former players including MATT BRYANT, KEVIN CONE, BUDDY CURRY and ANDREW JACKSON have also participated in advocacy work.
NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL has publicly stated that the NFL will continue to advocate for the passage of these laws until every state in the country has passed one. Wyoming and Mississippi are the outstanding states without Lystedt-like legislation and the NFL will continue to work in these states until laws are passed.
"When we watch an NFL game, we see it so differently from others," says Victor Lystedt, Zackery's father. "The penalties you don't like or the score you aren't happy with are so insignificant. We know how impressionable the game is on our youth and are so proud of the NFL's push for safety and the concern for its players."