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Ten ways to fix the NFL's growing concussion crisis

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Removing facemasks would likely cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits. (Getty Images)  
Removing facemasks would likely cut down on helmet-to-helmet hits. (Getty Images)  

We set out to write 10 things the NFL can do to save itself from a concussed, brain-damaged future. One of those things might happen soon, and it could change the look and pace of the sport.

On the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the NFL's competition committee is a proposal to make the wearing of hip pads, thigh pads and knee pads mandatory beginning in the 2013 season.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has been quietly pushing this for several years. The idea is that the extra padding would do two things, both related to helping prevent concussions. First, by wearing knee pads, if a player's knee makes incidental contact (or purposeful contact) with the head of a player, a padded knee would offer more protection for the head than an unpadded one. Second, the wearing of the equipment would slow down the game which in turn might lessen the harshness of the collisions.

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If this proposal passed -- and there's a good chance it could -- it could produce a different looking NFL with even more heavily padded players and slow down some of the skill players.

The NFL actually hopes to convince players to begin wearing the extra padding, which now almost none wear, maybe for this upcoming season. Interestingly, players don't want to wear the padding because they hate how it makes them look and they believe (correctly) the pads drain speed.

This is one suggestion to make the game safer. We have many more. Ten more, to be specific.

The idea is simple. Present 10 thoughts to keep the NFL safer for its players and viable as a league decades from now. In all, we queried CBSSports.com writers, editors, RapidReporters, NFL team officials and others for their ideas. Our belief is we've composed a fairly unique and, in some ways, innovative list.

When we sent our ideas to several team officials they added some of their own, which are also reflected. Some officials even corrected parts of our list where they believed policies already existed. For example, we initially called for teams lying about concussions or hiding them to be subjected to fines and loss of draft picks. But it turns out that can already happen.

We're not saying the NFL will do these things. We're saying the NFL and union should if they truly want to create a safer league.

The NFL is actually trying to change the culture for the better. Interestingly, some players remain the biggest resisters to that change. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White responded to ex-players who were suing the NFL over past concussion issues. He wrote this tweet on Wednesday: "It's crazy how football players are killing our game you signed up to play a violent game and made a lot of money now u talk bad about [it]."

These are 10 ways the NFL can help not just guarantee its survival but remain on top as the most watched sport in the country while protecting players ... even players like White who don't seem to know they need it.

1. Hire more concussion monitors. Assign three concussion monitors per game, one in the booth, and two on the field (one for each sideline). These three monitors would look for a player who exhibits signs of a concussion and they would be independent from team medical staff. The monitors would be given independent authority to call a timeout and have a player examined.

The NFL has a human concussion monitor in the press box, and an electronic video monitor so medical staff can review a big hit, but we want three separate human monitors at all games. And they make the final call on concussions.

2. If a flagrant hit leads to a concussion and missed time by a player, then the offending player must sit out the same number of games as the injured one misses. This is simple fairness, and of all the proposals, might be the most immediately effective.

3. Increase mental health resources to players. This would include a stronger and more publicized suicide prevention hotline and mandatory counseling sessions with a licensed therapist when a player retires. The latter would help players who have difficulty transitioning from the NFL to normal life.

4. Remove facemasks. No facemask would mean chances of huge, illegal hits would drop to almost zero. Players wouldn't risk turning their faces to Swiss cheese.

5. Test for HGH. No performance enhancers, less chance players grow to 400 pounds and hit each other with atomic force.

6. Do what the Nevada State Athletic Commission requires for professional boxers and MMA fighters. They must have a one-time MRI of the brain without contrast and an MRA of cerebral circulation. It can be done at the combine.

7. No 18-game schedule and consider the impossible: going back to a 14-game schedule. Simple math. Fewer games, fewer hits. There should also be just two preseason games.

8. Find ways to keep retired players connected to the game. Perhaps give them access to team workout facilities or incorporate them into programs such as NFL Play 60. Keeping retired players fit will go a long way in battling the depression brought on by concussion-related injuries. It will also help current players see exactly what the game does to the human body long-term. Many older retired players I've met have serious limps, memory loss and financial issues. This will remind current players like, say, White that they must protect futures they cannot see yet.

9. No one from the NFL, NFL Network or in any media should profit from big hits by selling videos or other merchandise of them. Self-explanatory. A league can't preach about safety while profiting from unsafe hits. The league is doing this, but must make sure there is no relapse.

10. A more comprehensive and publicized whistleblower line. The union has one, but it's mostly utilized for players to complain when teams violate NFL practice rules. There could be something more comprehensive, which could address almost any infraction, including what happened with bounties and the New Orleans Saints.

Interestingly, the league already has a concussion hotline, but it's believed few players, if any, use it. Or even know about it.

New York Giants player Osi Umenyiora said recently he might be in a wheelchair by his mid-40s. Who knows what will happen to Umenyiora or thousands of other players decades from now. What's certain is the game can be made safer and these are 10 ways to do it.

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