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Group focuses on brain injuries

Research, safety are top priorities

Associated Press / January 27, 2010

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Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood jokes that he can’t remember how many concussions he’s had.

Then he gets serious, recalling the damage he’s absorbed since he first started playing football when he was 12.

“What have I done?’’ Youngblood said. “I have to ask that question. You just don’t know. We haven’t defined it completely yet. That’s one of the issues we’re talking about here today.’’

Youngblood spoke during a break from the first meeting of the Mackey-White Traumatic Brain Injury Committee yesterday in Palm Beach, Fla. The committee was formed by the NFL Players Association and includes professional athletes, past and current NFL players, doctors, and researchers.

The group wants to open a dialogue on brain injuries in professional football, discuss the latest research, and begin developing recommendations to keep players safer.

The committee was named in honor of two Hall of Famers - tight end John Mackey, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and defensive lineman Reggie White, who earned the nickname “The Minister of Defense’’ and died at 43 after retiring from the NFL.

“It’s something very close to my heart,’’ Youngblood said. “I became much more aware of it as I was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and got to know John Mackey more than just a guy at a cocktail party, and to see how ravaging brain injury and brain trauma can be.’’

Congress recently questioned NFL players and doctors about football head injuries. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified in October about his league’s concussion policies.

Since then, the league has instituted stricter return-to-play guidelines for players showing concussion symptoms; required each team to enlist an independent neurologist as an adviser; entered into a partnership with Boston University brain researchers who have been critical of the league’s stance on concussions; and conducted tests on helmets.

“You can never take the collision aspect out of the game,’’ Youngblood said. “There’s just no way, and in fact, that’s something we kind of enjoy.’’

Dr. Thom Mayer, medical director of the NFL players’ union, is serving as the committee co-chair along with Cardinals wide receiver Sean Morey.

“This committee will serve as a ‘superconductor’ of information in order to drive rapid and meaningful progress in concussions,’’ Mayer said. “We have assembled a world-class group of scientists to facilitate our work, which will benefit not only NFL players, but all those involved in all contact sports.’’

New tests on tap?
The NFL’s medical committee is discussing giving players echocardiograms in the wake of Bears defensive end Gaines Adams’s death this month.

Adams died of an enlarged heart, something an echocardiogram can detect. NFL teams already give extensive physicals to players. Stress testing and echocardiograms are conducted when the results of the physical, an EKG, and family history indicate the need.

NFL medical people and outside experts who sit on the league’s cardiovascular health committee previously have discussed making echocardiograms standard. They’re doing so again, pending the final pathologists’ report on Adams.

But some cardiologists warn there could be risks, such as misdiagnoses, to making echocardiograms standard in a physical exam.

No Favre deadline
Vikings coach Brad Childress won’t set a deadline for 40-year-old quarterback Brett Favre to decide whether he’ll play next season. Childress said he’d prefer to know sooner rather than later, but that the team will plan for both possibilities. Favre insisted after Sunday’s NFC Championship game loss in New Orleans that he wouldn’t take months to reach a decision, unlike last summer’s back and forth. Childress also took responsibility for the costly too-many-men-in-the-huddle penalty that preceded Favre’s interception in the fourth quarter against the Saints with the Vikings driving for the go-ahead field goal . . . Hue Jackson said he is leaving his job as quarterbacks coach with the Ravens to take over as offensive coordinator of the Raiders. Jackson told the Ravens team website he will be the primary play-caller for the Raiders. Coach Tom Cable called plays last season when Oakland did not have an offensive coordinator. The Raiders have not said whether Cable will be back next season . . . The Falcons, who were 28th in pass defense, hired Tim Lewis as secondary coach. Lewis coached the Seahawks’ defensive backs this season and is a former defensive coordinator with the Steelers and Giants . . . Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin will have surgery to repair an injured left knee and may not be ready for the start of next season . . . Falcons receiver Roddy White is replacing Minnesota’s Sidney Rice (general soreness) on the NFC roster for Sunday’s Pro Bowl in Miami. 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith was added to the NFC roster in place of injured Viking Kevin Williams (knee) . . . Former 49ers Pro Bowl punter Tom Wittum, 60, died last Friday from cancer, according to his son. Wittum, who was living in Antioch, Ill., retired from the NFL in 1978 after a serious car accident.

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