nfl-concussions
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.

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Kobe Bryant smiles at halftime as both his #8 and #24 Los Angeles Lakers jerseys are retired at Staples Center on December 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
Harry How/Getty Images

Petition To Redesign NBA Logo After Kobe Bryant Gains Over A Million Signatures

On Sunday (Jan. 26), a helicopter carrying families, which included Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, crashed in Calabasas, California. All nine people onboard were pronounced dead. As investigators continue to decipher the exact cause of the tragic incident, the sports legend’s supporters are pushing for his likeness to always remain a part of the sport he dominated.

A change.org petition has received over a million signatures to encourage the National Basketball Association (NBA) to change its logo to feature Bryant. Currently, former professional basketball player Jerry West remains as the league’s logo. West was also a Los Angeles Laker.

Michael Jones, the organization’s managing director, shared that the petition has grounds to memorialize Bryant in a sport he changed forever. "Nick's petition is not only the fastest-growing on Change.org, it's also the first petition of 2020 to top 1 million signatures anywhere in the globe," Jones said in a statement. "As the world comes to terms with the death of someone as famous and well-known as Kobe Bryant, Nick has given basketball fans an outlet to create a permanent memory of someone who made history in the NBA."

As noted by The Undefeated, today also marks 23 years since Bryant, at age 18, became the youngest player to start a game.

Jan. 28, 1997

Kobe Bryant becomes the youngest player -- at 18 years, five months and five days -- to start an NBA game. pic.twitter.com/wA9mCqNORm

— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) January 28, 2020

According to CNN, the pilot received Special VFR Clearance (SVFR) to fly the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter due to weather conditions. The helicopter left from John Wayne Airport near Irvine, Calif., on its destination to Thousand Oaks where Gianna and her two teammates were expected to play a basketball game.

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Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks for an open man during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on June 4, 2000 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Tom Hauck

NEXT: Kobe Bryant

This story appeared in the April 2000 issue of VIBE, months before he won his first of five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Written by Isaac Paris

Okay, Sherlock, we know Kobe Bryant is way past the verge of stardom. As an all-star shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, he gets thousands of fans screaming with excitement every other night. Bryant's baseline drives are as smooth as Nate Dogg's vocals, and his slam dunks bump like a gritty bass line from a DJ Premier track.

Now, with his debut rap album, Visions (Columbia), due in March, the 21-year-old is poised to follow in the footsteps of teammate Shaquille O'Neal (who he occasionally exchanges verses with in the locker room) and prove that his skills aren't limited to flying above the rim. Although Bryant realizes that being the man on the hardwood is no guarantee that you can actually hold it down in the studio (NBA stars/inept MCs like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd can attest to that), Visions proves his wordsmith capabilities are ample enough to allow him to play with the big dogs.

"People are gonna be surprised," Bryant says self-assuredly. "Toward the latter stages [of recording], I was real comfortable. I was like, 'I got this sh*t!'" In fact, tonight in his Milwaukee hotel room––on the eve of a game against the Bucks––Bryant's more pressed with defending the unproven mike skills of his homegirl that he is his own.

"Tyra can sing," he says of supermodel Tyra Banks, who makes her singing debut on Visions' first single, the buoyant "K.O.B.E." Destiny's Child, the Roots' Black Thought, 50 Cent, and Beanie Sigel also support the hoopster on the CD.

"The album is pretty hard. People expect me to come a little more commercial than I did," says Bryant. "At first it was all battle raps, but I really wanted to give the total picture of what was going on around me, like money, jewelry, women, and trust issues."

Nevertheless, money, hoes, and clothes aren't the only things this player knows. He also knows how to win. The following night, after No. 8 scores 22 points as the Lakers thrash the Bucks, he's convinced he'll be just as successful rapping as he is playing on his championship-contending team. "[On the mic] you want respect. If I want something I'm gonna get it. Just buy the album and see for yourself."

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LA Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant poses for a shoot held in 1999 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.
Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Sound Check: Bobbito Plays The Tracks, Kobe Bryant States The Facts

"Hey, Jon B's in the house!" says Kobe Bryant, laughing, when I step into New York's Hit Factory.

"Money, you trying to snap?" I ask. "That's why you're wearing bell-bottoms." It's no surprise Kobe and I get along. We share passions—for hip-hop and basketball—and the same high school alma mater, Lower Merion, in Ardmore, Pa. Although I graduated twelve years before he did, I felt much pride when he made our school a household name in 1996, the year he jumped from his senior year in high school to the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.

In '98, Kobe represented again as the youngest player in history to play in an NBA All-Star game. And while the current league lockout threatens to shut down the Lakers' dreams of a 1999 championship, Kobe's not sweating it. The six-foot-seven-inch guard's making moves as CEO and president of the one-year-old Kobe Family Entertainment. He's also picking up the mike as part of rap group signed to Trackmasters/Columbia. After our interview, he played me some milky-thick instrumentals, then later he rocked complex rhymes during his interview on New York's Hot 97 FM (WQHT). This cat Kobe is smart. And cool—mad cool.

Public Enemy—"Brothers Gonna Work It Out" (Def Jam, 1990)

B: Do you know this song?

K.B.: It's Public Enemy. Everybody knows them. Back in the day, me and my cousin used to do the Flavor Flav dance! My grandma would be like, "Kobe, what are you doing? You got an itch down there?" I'd be like, Grandma, it's the new dance.

B: I used to work at Def Jam—from '89 to '93—and Flav would come into the office and literally take it over. Nothing could be done, workwise, while he was there. One time, he got on top of my desk and was doing his dance. He was like that all the time. It wasn't an act for the stage or videos. That's just Flav.

De La Soul Featuring Pete Rock and InI––"Stay Away" (unreleased bootleg, 1998)

B: This record is beautiful. Do you like it?

K.B.: Hell yeah. It makes you want to listen and do nothing else. Not like some other songs—you hear them and want to punch the table. Even the lyrics have a melody. De La always bring it lyrically. You can always expect that they'll rhyme honestly about what they see.

B: I can listen to their first album, which is ten years old, and still not know what the fuck they're talking about. Regardless, their voices, delivery, flow, and intelligence make them one of my favorites of all time.

K.B.: When one of their songs comes on, you have to listen. But today, a lot of people don't have the patience for that.

B: Do you have a different name for yourself as an MC?

K.B.: Kobe, plain and simple.

B: What's the name of your group?

K.B..: Cheizaw. It stands for Canon Homo sapiens Eclectic Iconic Zaibatsu Abstract Words. Canon is the ruler of the spiritual body. Homo sapien is the [scientific] term for human beings. Eclectic means choosing the best of very diverse styles. Icon is a symbol.  Zaibatsu is a Japanese word for powerful family. Abstract makes concentration very difficult. Words, meaning lyrics. That's Cheizaw—that's how we're putting it down. Six members, all from Philly...Illadelph!

4 Hero—"Loveless" featuring Ursula Rucker (Talkin Loud/Mercury, 1998)

K.B.: I feel that joint to the most. I love the most. Who is that?

B: It's a drum n' bass group called 4 Hero, out of London. The poet, Ursula, is from Philly. She's on the Roots' first two albums, Do You Want More?!!!??! (DGC, 1995) and Illadelph Halflife (Geffen, 1996), and I hear she does a poem on their upcoming release too. She's ill—on some emotional poetry shit.

K.B.: Yeah, man. I love poetry. Don't you have a famous [poetry] spot out here [in New York]?

B: The Nuyorican Poets' Cafe. My man Ricky and I do shows there twice a month. Common, Wyclef, Saul Williams from the movie Slam, and Roy Hargrove have all come down and jammed.

K.B.: I've never been to a spot like that before, but I love poetry. I love writing it.

B: Have you ever checked out Gil-Scott Heron? I highly recommend him.

Nancy Wilson—"Call Me" (Pickwick/Capitol, 1966)

K.B.: Sounds like the melody from that TV show, from back in the day. The one with two girls in it...two roommates...

B: Three's Company?

K.B.: Nah, I think it was Laverne & Shirley...I don't know this record at all. I don't know what you want me to say.

B: Well, does it make you happy or sad? Does it make you want to take a sh*t?

K.B.: It makes me...[snaps his fingers and shimmies with his shoulders]. You know what I mean? Ha, ha!

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