NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had just delivered a speech to employees of General Electric last fall in Columbus, Ohio, when he and GE chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt began discussing what could be done to make football safer, particularly the treatment of concussions.
"Jeff and I share a love of football, and we've spent a lot of time talking about what it's meant to both of us in building our character, our values and how we use a lot of the things we've learned on the football field in our jobs today," Goodell said Monday. "We were talking about our challenges, and player health and safety is No. 1 for us. Jeff reached out and said, 'I want to help. I want to make a difference.' "
The conversation led to a $40-million joint investment by the NFL and GE toward concussion research. Goodell and Immelt announced the venture Monday at GE headquarters in Manhattan. The Under Armour Corp. also is involved in the partnership and will launch an initiative to attract entrepreneurs to find new ways of dealing with brain injuries.
The venture also is aimed at helping military personnel cope better with problems associated with traumatic brain injury.
"Brain injury is very much a global problem, and our goal is to better diagnose, treat and prevent it," Goodell said. "We have taken many steps in the NFL to reduce and properly treat concussions over the years, from rules changes to developing protocols with leading experts, to funding millions of dollars of research through the National Institutes of Health.
"But there is a lot more to do, and our game has always evolved and will continue to evolve. We want to speed up that process."
The announcement comes at a time when the NFL is facing lawsuits by approximately 4,000 former players accusing the league of not making them aware of the dangers of concussions. In recent years, former players Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters committed suicide, and all were found to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease of the brain.
"GE is a leader in developing sophisticated diagnostic imaging technology, but for all the advances in science, our knowledge of the brain is far behind that of nearly every other organ in the body," Immelt said. "With this initiative, we will advance our research and apply our learning to sports-related concussions, brain injuries suffered by members of the military and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Advancing brain science will help families everywhere."
Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour, said: "As longstanding partners of the NFL, we recognize the magnitude of this initiative, and the impact it will have for athletes at all levels . . . We take great pride in supporting this effort to reward new ideas and breakthrough concepts in this space, particularly as it applies to protecting athletes and influencing positive change in sports."