NFL, players see progress in tackling concussions

Fri Jan 31, 2014 2:24pm EST
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By Scott Malone

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fans watching Sunday's Super Bowl can count on seeing long passes, big tackles and dramatic running plays. They should not see a player lying prone on the field after the sickening crack of a helmet-to-helmet hit, thanks to an NFL effort to reduce player concussions.

With a growing body of research showing that hits to the head over years on the football field can lead to early dementia, violent behavior and other mental problems later in life, league officials, former players and medical experts have been working to reduce the number of concussions on the field.

Medical officials with the National Football League said changes including banning helmet-to-helmet hits and more aggressively monitoring players' condition on the sidelines have paid off: the number of concussions suffered by players dropped 13 percent in the 2013 season from 2012. The figures, compiled by the league, could not be independently verified.

The latest data was encouraging to Shawn Wooden, 40, a retired defensive back who spent most of his career with the Miami Dolphins and is one of 4,500 former players suing the NFL, saying the league knowing downplayed the risk of concussions to player health.

"Thirteen percent, that's a step forward for the safety of the game," Wooden said during an interview in New York. "That's what everybody wants, making sure that player safety is the main objective. ... Making sure that we are taking care of guys who are suffering from some of the injuries, some of the head trauma."

A growing body of medical research shows the repeated hits to the head suffered by football players, hockey players, boxers and other athletes can lead to a debilitating brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The condition, which can currently be confirmed only after death, has been found in some players who died in recent years, including former San Diego Chargers star Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest in 2012.

One of the biggest rule changes the league made this season aimed at reducing concussions is stopping players from spearing each other with the crowns of their helmets.   Continued...

Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (R) runs a drill as an assistant stands by during their practice session for the Super Bowl at the New York Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine