NEW YORK (April 26, 2007) -- The NFL hopes to conduct pre-training camp neurological tests on players to determine susceptibility to concussions.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a meeting with sports editors that the league's medical committee has been working on a way to implement mandatory tests, perhaps as early as this summer when training camps open. That comes after a session at March's league meetings in Arizona in which officials and coaches agreed that head injuries need the closest monitoring.
"At no time should competitive issues override medical issues," Goodell said he told the coaches. "Safety comes first."
The issue of concussions has drawn added attention in recent months after a forensic pathologist who studied the brain tissue of Andre Waters after his suicide last November at age 44 concluded Waters had brain damage. And the damage resulted from multiple concussions during 12 years as an NFL safety.
In addition, the Boston Globe and New York Times reported in February that 34-year-old Ted Johnson, who spent 10 years as a linebacker with the New England Patriots, shows early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Johnson said he began to deteriorate in 2002 with a concussion during an exhibition game against the New York Giants. He said he had another concussion four days later after coach Bill Belichick prodded him to participate in a full-contact practice, even though he was supposed to be avoiding hits.
Goodell acknowledged the problems often come from players who want to re-enter games or return to practice before doctors clear them.
"We're protecting the players against the players," he said.
There was some anticipation that Goodell might act this way.
Last week, a seminar on concussions in California was organized by agent Leigh Steinberg, who has been campaigning for closer scrutiny of head injuries for more than a decade. Steinberg represented quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Steve Young, both of whom had multiple concussions.
The concussions forced Aikman to retire earlier than he might have. But Young represented the kind of player Goodell talked about protecting from himself. Young once dived head-first into an opposition player on the first series after returning from two concussions.
"You know that's the way I play," he replied when queried about it after the game.
Steinberg noted at the session that teams have huge investments in players, both financially and athletically, and need to take better care of them.
"Hopefully all those pressures will have the effect of creating a climate that's more conducive to the NFL making changes," he said. "Times are shifting and changing. There's a new commissioner, it's a new day, I think a fresh look here is appropriate."
Goodell, who took over last September from Paul Tagliabue, also said during the session with the editors:
-- The NFL is looking into the possibility of playing a Super Bowl outside the United States, although not before 2012 at the earliest. He said the three most likely spots would be London, Toronto or Mexico City because they are in time zones that would allow the game to be televised in the United States at reasonable hours.
-- The league also could expand its international appeal by cutting the exhibition season to three games and adding a 17th game, to be played outside the United States. The NFL already has played one regular-season game in Mexico City and the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins will meet in London next Oct. 28 as part of a planned rotating schedule for annual overseas games involving different teams.
A 17th game would have to be approved by the NFL Players Association, but would solve the problem of taking a home game from a team, as the current plan does. The game in London was scheduled as a Dolphins home date.
- There is some talk of changing the date of the Pro Bowl, perhaps to the weekend before the Super Bowl to get more fan attention. There are three years left on the league's contract to play the game in Hawaii, but the league is allowed to move it in one of those years.