Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, now the head of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine (and an enthusiastic Falcons fan), says the NFL’s new safety-inspired rules are a step in the right direction for all levels of competition.
I got involved with the NFL a dozen years ago through a friendship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He was a very active board member for the Action for Healthy Kids, which I founded to help fight childhood obesity and other health issues. Roger asked me to get involved in the issue of long-term effects of head trauma in former NFL players, which is an issue that trickles down to youth sports. New NFL rules — such as prohibiting a player from using the crown of the helmet when blocking a defender in the open field — will carry over to college, high school and youth football, so everyone is safer.
The NFL group that I served on visited 15 cities for “NFL Community Huddles: Taking a Goal Line Stand for Your Mind & Body.” Atlanta’s event was the best attended because so many former NFL players live here. You can’t listen to these stories, of trauma-induced degenerative brain diseases and suicides, without being deeply moved. Similar effects are seen in combat troops returning with traumatic brain injuries. I also have visited Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, where the brains of many deceased NFL players have been donated to science. The more I listened and learned about families being destroyed, the stronger I felt that more needed to be done.
The brain is the most important organ in the body. Starting when a baby is in utero, a parent’s optimal care must be for brain development and protection. Society must take more seriously traumas to the brain and reduce the risks of banging heads in contact sports and related activities.
New NFL rules this season are an important statement that society is serious about stopping intentional blows to the head. Some players don’t support this change in culture. They think these rules turn football into a sissy game. It will take time for our society to get past that.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to make football safer through rules like these. We like to cheer head-to-head contact, but if we realize what serious business these kind of traumas are, we will realize there’s no cause for joy. The day is coming when we won’t applaud.
As told to Michelle Hiskey, for the AJC