NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday that the league will commit $100 million toward brain health, and stressed in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer that the league is deeply concerned about the health and well-being of its players.
“I’ve been in this game for 35 years,” Goodell told Lauer. “I’ve known players. I care about our players. I respect what they do on and off the field. I know our players. I care about our players. Some of them, I’ve known for 30 years.”
Goodell said $60 million would be devoted to technological development, including the improvement of helmets, and $40 million toward funding medical research into the effects of head injuries, according to the Washington Post.
Goodell wrote a letter announcing the new funding plan, called “Play Safe, Play Smart,” on the program’s website. He said the goal of the program is to “drive progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries, enhance medical protocols and further improve the way the game is taught and played by all who love it.”
The league recently settled a lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 former players, agreeing to a $1 billion plan. That settlement is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court after it was previously upheld on appeal. The Supreme Court has not yet announced whether it will hear the case.
Goodell told the Washington Post that the new initiative “builds on what we’ve done the last few years, but it takes it to another level in a variety of areas. It’s all about protecting our players. We’ve seen some very positive things. But we’re not satisfied. We’re not comfortable. There are still things for us to do to make our game safer for our players and make it better for our players.”
The league has taken several steps in recent years to address concussions, with the latest an enhancement of concussion protocol during games. The NFL and NFL Players Association work jointly in addressing in-game incidents where players suffer head injuries.
Even so, the system has come under scrutiny. In last Thursday’s regular-season opener in a rematch of last season’s Super Bowl between the Broncos and Panthers, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton sustained several helmet-to-helmet hits, only one of which was penalized. At no point did Newton come out of the game, even though he stayed down on the field for several seconds after a hit by Broncos safety Darian Stewart late in the fourth quarter. The league and players union are looking into whether concussion protocol was followed properly.
Goodell said in his letter to the NFL’s 32 teams that the new initiative is “important work. But we recognize it hasn’t always been clear how connected these initiatives are to player health and safety. Moving forward, we will do a better job explaining all of these changes and the reasons behind them to our players and our fans.”
Goodell told the Washington Post that he couldn’t say whether there is a definitive link between football and the degenerative neurological disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s head of player safety, indicated to a congressional committee in March that there was a link.
“I’m not a medical expert or scientist,” Goodell said. “We have for years been funding research on CTE. We think it’s an important aspect of the research and we want to continue that, and we have. We continued our obligations with [Boston University’s] NIH for $30 million that we committed to several years ago. … So we’re going to continue to accelerate that as quickly as we can. But I think everyone would acknowledge that we’re still in the early stages of that research. We’re going to do our best to accelerate that.”