Associated Press

How The NFL Is Tackling The Concussion Drama Head-On

NFL's Senior Vice President of Health and Safety sounds off.

The NFL is in a different head space. Tom Brady's DeflateGate controversy is (finally) old news and the 2015 season is two weeks deep, already hype for next year's Super Bowl 50.

However, the increasing concern over head injuries and concussions has kept the league from doing a victory dance. With young talent like former Niners linebacker, Chris Borland and ex-Packers wide receiver, Adrian Coxson, retiring at 24 and 23, players' safety has shot to the top of the priority list.

Ask NFL's Senior Vice President of Health and Safety, Jeff Miller, though, and he will gladly outline the positives that have come from countless safety issues. From implementing new technology for better play-by-play review to landing a neurotrama consultant on-site, Miller breaks down the league's latest protocols and expands on its Health and Safety report, aimed at making the NFL's concussion drama a thing of the past.

VIBE: Last year the league saw a big decrease in player’s risks of head injury during a game. In your opinion, what has been the most effective change since implementing and enhancing current protocol?
Jeff Miller: There’s a number of different additions or changes to the game that probably can best be summarized by talking about the culture change as it relates to head injuries in football. There’s been a number of rule changes that have taken the head out of the game of protective, defenseless players. The players have adapted to those changes really well and the coaches have adapted really well to those changes as well in terms of teaching the right techniques. As a result of that, we’ve seen a decrease in concussions over the last three years of 35% and a decrease in concussions caused by helmet hits in that same time frame of 43%. And while those rule changes and culture change have occurred, we’ve also added a number of other elements to the game including independent spotters to identify players who need assistance, unaffiliated doctors on the sideline to help with the evaluation of concussions, video boards on the sideline so that team positions can view particular injuries and the use of tablets and electronic medical records so that the positions have it at their fingertips, a player’s medical history, including his concussion history and the scores on his baseline test. And other things that can help the team position and unaffiliated doctors make a good analysis and evaluation of that player as it relates to concussion so while we’ve seen the concussion numbers go down, as that culture change has taken hold, we’ve also increased the amount of attention on medical effort uniformed in the protocol and added other elements to the field to make sure that we’re capturing the injuries when they occur.

Looking at cases like former Niners linebacker, Chris Borland, and ex-Packers wide receiver Adrian Coxson who have had to retire at very young ages because of head trauma concern, do you feel like there should be additional protocols or rules in place for players who may be in their early or mid '20s?
Well I think that the rule changes that have been made to the game—there’s been almost 40 rule changes over the last ten years that relate to player health and safety—have made our game safer and the addition of independent medical experts, as related to concussions, and the technology improvements that we’ve made have made the game safer overall. And players who are playing today are benefiting from that. Now, that doesn’t suggest that we’re done. We’ll continue to look at the game, our competition committee and our owners health and safety committee will continue to get together looking at medical data, injury trends, injury statistics, and look for ways to continue to improve the health and safety of our sport as well as [continuing] to invest a significant scientific research report to try and advance new materials, new equipment and other things that will better protect players. So there’s still a lot more that needs to be done and will be done but I think that they’re seeing an improvement in players' safety now and will continue to see those improvements over the next few years.

In a past interview, you said that there was “a cultural resistance.” Do you feel like there are emotional factors to also consider when it comes to players potentially denying that they have a concussion until a teammate points out a problem?
I think that it has to be a cooperative effort among those who are implementing the rules, those are identifying the injuries and those who may have suffered an injury to accept the culture where it’s okay to talk [about] assistance where it’s needed. And we’ve seen some of that. We’ve seen some, many examples now, where players, or you can see it in the games, ask for help from a teammate who they think may have suffered a hit and need assistance. We’ve seen it where our officials, who are trained to do this, are looking to help players who may need it and those are positive, very positive steps. I think as the culture change as it relates to these injuries continues to take hold, you’re going to see more of that. And as our players are more educated about the signs and symptoms of concussion and head injury, which they are, they’ll be able to self-report with greater frequency. Those are all positives in our welcome development but at the end of the day, it’s going to have to be a cooperative effort and all parties are going to do their part for overall player health and safety.

Now Will Smith is actually releasing a movie called Concussion later this year that deals with the issue of head trauma in the league. A Sony marketing chief has said that an NFL consultant was hired to see that the league is portrayed accurately. Is there any truth to these statements?
Actually I don’t know what Sony’s story is. As I understood, they hired a consultant to help them with the movie cause there’s no NFL participation in this. The amount of interaction between the NFL and Sony on this, I think, was limited to two emails between somebody from Sony and our head of communications to potentially plan a conversation that never happened. So I think that’s been already discussed in published reports. From what I understand, that’s the extent of the NFL’s involvement with Sony on this movie.

A quick Twitter search shows that there’s an account called @NFLConcussions with the bio reading, “Chronicling every publicly disclosed concussion in the NFL.” Has this type of criticism, especially online, applied pressure to the league to be more transparent and open about their policy changes?
Well I think it’s fair to say that we are. We hold a press conference the last few years at the Super Bowl where we put out all of our concussion and other injury data, and invite reporters in to ask about and talk about it. We engage with reporters like yourself who have questions about this and so, while we were pleased that we’re making strides, we also acknowledge that there’s a lot more to do. But our concussion protocols, which we go over with the player’s association, with outside medical experts, with international experts and concussions are things that we are going revisit every year and if those can be a standard that others can follow then we think that’s our responsibility to share those. Therefore, we do. As one example, there was an article in the paper yesterday that the National Hockey League is accepting one of our additions, which is an independent injury spotter in the media box to identify potential injuries and that’s something we’ve been doing for four years or so now. We think that that’s added to player’s safety because there’s more injuries being identified and that’s head injuries and everything else too and teams' medical staffs are getting the benefit of having a third party sharing information with them and help them identify injuries so players can be cared for. So as it relates to our concussion statistics, our injury statistics overall, the protocols that we use, we share that information and we host get-togethers and conferences with other sports leagues, and are happy to talk to the press about the sorts of things we do and why we do them. I think that’s probably better sport health and safety overall through those efforts.

It’s no secret that the NFL is really big on family. What is your message to a mother who is concerned about her young son playing football but is hesitant to let him because of potential head injuries?
Well, I would say first to that mother if her son wants to play football that she should check out USA football as a football program, which is a program that our friends at USA football launched three years ago with the idea of certifying coaches, proper tackling techniques, equipment fitting and the signs and symptoms of concussion and the signs and symptoms of heat hydration illness and a number of other things. An independent study shows that those kids who participate in Heads Up football leagues have about a 30% lower risk of concussion and about a 70% or more lower risk of injury overall than those who don’t. So the NFL has taken the changes that we’ve made and we’ve hoped to cascade them throughout other levels of our sport and other sports, frankly. So I would tell that mother to make sure your coach is certified, make sure that your league has adopted heads up football and be a good consumer in the activities for which you signed your kids up, whether that be football or other sports because changes can be made and parents should be aware of those who are doing those programs the right way.

From the Web

More on Vibe

John Gibbins

Kellen Winslow II Keeps Straight Face During Rape Trial

Former NFL player Kellen Winslow II reportedly showed no emotion Monday (May 20) during the opening statements of his rape trial. The 35-year-old was said to be stoic when prosecutors said he “took what he wanted” from several women, including a 17-year-old who accused him of rape while he was a student at The University of Miami.

Winslow's father, a former San Diego Charger, sat inside the Southern California courtroom behind his son as a show of support.

Winslow was arrested in 2018 after authorities found evidence linking him to the break-ins of two elderly women in north San Diego's Encinitas neighborhood. However, the charges were dismissed by a judge during a preliminary hearing.

After posting bail, Winslow was arrested for allegedly raping two women. On March 17, a 54-year-old hitchhiker said Winslow offered her a ride and when she accepted, he attacked her in the parking lot of a shopping center. The New England Patriots' tight end supposedly threatened to kill the woman if she screamed, so she remained silent.

“She was too scared to scream,” Owens told jurors.

The woman reported the attack to authorities four days later but refused to be examined. She instead gave investigators Winslow's blood-stained paints she says he wore. DNA testing found Winslow's semen on the pants.

Owens said in May of that same year, Winslow befriended a 59-year-old homeless woman and sodomized her.

Winslow's attorney, Brian Watkins, told that jury that while his client repeatedly cheated on his wife, it doesn't mean he assaulted the several women accusing him of rape.

“It’s wrong. It’s immoral, but it is not illegal,” Watkins said.

Watkins contends the women who have accused Winslow are preying on him due to the media coverage of his rape allegations.

When Winslow was out on a $2 million bail, a 77-year-old woman accused the former New York Jet of exposing himself to her at a gym twice and masturbated in front of her. He has been held in jail without bail, since.

Winslow pled not guilty to 12 charges, and if found guilty, he could face life in prison.

Continue Reading
Jayne Kamin-Oncea

Deontay Wilder Makes Sinister Remarks Ahead Of Bout With Dominic Breazeale

Drenched in sweat and surrounded by reporters and cameras, Deontay Wilder made sinister remarks Tuesday (May 14) ahead of his bout with Dominic Breazeale, which centered the WBC heavyweight champion in steep controversy.

"[Breazeale's] life is on the line for this fight and I do mean his life,” Wilder said. “I am still trying to get me a body on my record."

Last December, Wilder earned the title in a controversial draw against Tyson Fury, but prior to their bout in the ring, Wilder, 33, said he wants "a wants a body on his record," which resulted in backlash as the sport has already had several injuries and deaths in and outside of the ring.

Ahead of Saturday's matchup with Breazeale, Wilder doubled down on his desire and asserted boxing is a sport which makes it legal.

"Dominic Breazeale asked for this. I didn't go seek him. He [sought] me. So if it comes it comes. This is a brutal sport. This is not a gentleman sport," Wilder said. "We don't ask to hit each other in the face but we do anyway, and you can ask any doctor around the world, he will tell you, your head is not meant to be hit."

"On this particular time, we have bad blood against each other. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It's legal. So why not use my right to do so?"

Wednesday afternoon (May 15) Wilder began to trend on social media with many demonstrating a plethora of emotions

Deontay Wilder is one of maybe seven people on earth where i believe every single word he says.

— Kazeem Famuyide 🏁 (@RealLifeKaz) May 15, 2019


Deontay Wilder:

— Cash Money 💵🏘 (@FineAssTwin) May 15, 2019

I've been inspired and touched by Deontay Wilder's story about how He got into boxing to help pay for His daughter's medical bills and He genuinely might be a really nice guy, but it's so fucking hard to see when he's spouting shite like this. Get fucked

— Jay Brown (@JayJagsBrown) May 15, 2019

Deontay Wilder and Dominic Breazeale go at it Saturday, (May 18) Let's hope both men leave the arena in one piece.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Lamar Odom Suffering From Severe Memory Loss After Near-Fatal Overdose

Lamar Odom is a “walking miracle.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the 39-year-old former NBA player turned team captain for Ice Cube’s Big 3 basketball league, reflected on the near death experience that left him with permanent memory loss.

“My memory is really bad,” Odom admitted to the newspaper. “I can’t remember anything. My short-term memory is really bad. … I wish I could explain it but I can’t. It’s tough and it’s really frustrating. If there’s a poster child for Alzheimer’s, I’m probably it. It’s something I’m scared of. I think I need to go see a doctor at some point and see if I can work on that. It’s scary.”

Odom returned was in Vegas Wednesday (May 1) for the Big 3 draft, but Sin City has a whole new meaning to the native New Yorker. In October 2015, Odom almost died from a drug overdose after being found unconscious in a Las Vegas brothel. Odom suffered 12 strokes, and half a dozen heart attacks while he was comatose.

“I always knew I had a strong will. I think my will is even stronger than I believed it was. It’s a testament that God is good,” he said. “When I woke up [from the coma] and I couldn’t talk or walk I never thought I would be here. I never thought I would play basketball again or talk to you. Just to be here is a win for me.”

Despite the miraculous recovery Odom revealed that he suffered from physical setbacks that have affected his game. “I can’t dribble the basketball the way I used to. That was a gift from God. It was just so natural for me. It was a mismatch for me with my size to be able to put the ball on the floor the way I did,” he said. “I guess God gave me life so he had to take something… I guess he took away some of my natural ability, which came easy to me. Ball handling and dribbling is still an issue but I have a month to work on that before the season starts.”

The Big 3 2019 regular season kicks off on June 22.

Continue Reading

Top Stories