NFL unveils $100M concussion initiative; PR raises eyebrows

League commissioner Roger Goodell says the ‘Play Smart. Play Safe’ effort focuses on prevention and treatment of head injuries. Still, some question the PR around the launch.

Roger Goodell may spend most of his time around football. However, some journalists are criticizing their peers for tossing Goodell softball questions about the NFL’s handling of traumatic brain injuries.

On Wednesday, Matt Lauer interviewed Goodell, the National Football League’s commissioner, on the “Today” show about the league’s initiative aimed at the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gridiron head injuries.

In an open letter in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Goodell announced the league’s “Play Smart Play Safe” initiative in which $100 million is being put toward medical research and developing new technology to make the game safer for its players.

“I think it’ll change the game immediately,” Goodell said. “We have invested significantly in the past to further research, but we’ve also not waited on research. We’ve made rule changes. We’ve made changes in our equipment. We’ve done things to improve the way the game is played.

“We’re going to invest in research, we’re going to invest in science. Some of that will take a few years to develop. But we think we’re changing the game today.”


Alex Reimer, who writes about sports on Forbes.com, had harsh words for both Goodell and Lauer:

Though the NFL’s generosity should be recognized, there have been questions about how the league allocates its spending. This May, for example, Congress released a 91-page report that says the NFL tried to influence a government concussion study because its lead researcher has been critical of the league (an NFL spokesman later denied those claims). Unsurprisingly, the topic wasn’t broached.

Another notable miss was when Lauer asked Goodell about accusations that the league’s handling of brain injuries has been similar to the tobacco industry’s efforts to cover up the negative effects of smoking. The commissioner sidestepped the question, talking about how the NFL put up posters in team locker rooms in 2009 and 2010 that warned players about the “long-term health consequences” of improperly managed brain injuries. Lauer never followed up with an inquiry about the NFL’s longtime denial of the link between football and CTE.

Reimer, though, was especially critical about a recent on-field incident involving Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Lauer didn’t broach the subject:

But perhaps most stupefying of all was Lauer’s failure to bring up the issue revolving around the handling of Cam Newton in the season-opener Thursday night. Despite taking several shots to the head, Newton never left the game to be examined. The NFL and NFL Players’ Association have both announced their [sic] launching investigations to look into whether the concussion protocol was violated.

Business is booming, so the fans don’t appear to be demanding accountability. Sitting down with a probing reporter could only hurt. But until proven otherwise, Goodell interviews should be viewed as little more than recorded press releases.


Mike Florio wrote on NBC Sports about the timing of the announcement and the way it was delivered:

At some point in the past few months, someone who gets paid plenty of money to pick the best time to make announcements decided that the hump day between Week One and Week Two of the NFL regular season would be the best day to unveil the league’s new $100 million plan to improve safety equipment and to support medical research regarding head injuries. Likewise, someone who gets paid plenty of money to pick the best words for making announcements decided to do it through a letter written by the Commissioner (or at least signed by him) and posted at a dedicated website, a move the league may have learned from the Patriots.

USA Today also questioned Goodell’s intentions:

The announcement comes at a time the NFL’s handling of head injuries and the dangers of football are under intense focus.

A roughly $1 billion settlement to settle thousands of concussion lawsuits brought by former players has been making its way through the courts. Just days ago, the NFL and its player’s [sic] union announced separate probes into the execution of concussion protocol after reigning league MVP Cam Newton suffered a blow to the head in Thursday night’s kickoff game.

Children and their doctors

The new school year has also brought renewed attention to the dangers of youth sports programs, with a focus on youngsters who play football and soccer. HealthFinder.gov reported:

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 248,000 U.S. children and teens land in the emergency room each year because of a concussion sustained in sports or recreational activities. But that figure only captures kids taken to the ER.

A recent study estimated that the actual number of injuries is closer to 2 million a year, but researchers said even that figure is probably too low.

In the “Today” interview, Goodell told Lauer he’s been in touch with the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They have looked at this issue of young kids coming into football, and they have said, ‘It’s about proper coaching, improve the techniques. Do the things necessary to limit contacts.’ Those are changes that we have been making,” Goodell said.

A new study has found that children who suffer concussions and other head injuries are often affected by depression, which can go untreated. According to Reuters, teens who suffer from sports concussions may need coordinated care that addresses both physical and mental health symptoms, a small study suggests.

“When concussion symptoms do not resolve within a month following injury, parents may need to be more proactive in seeking additional help, and may find that working with a psychologist or therapist with expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy to be helpful, in addition to their medical treatment,” said lead study author Carolyn McCarty of Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington.

“It is also important to screen for depression among these youth, because concussion and depression tend to co-occur frequently,” McCarty added.

Whether addressing hardball, softball, soccer or football, health care communicators can tap a bevy of resources to educate parents, coaches and clinicians about head injuries and concussions. For example, the American Academy of Family Physicians’ website offers a variety of material. A video, similar to the one on HealthyChildren.org, can be beneficial, too:

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Topics: PR

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