George Visger’s Concussion Rules
We were all excited when the NFL finally got rid of Ira “Dr. No” Casson as Co-Chair of the NFL’s “Mild” Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. What surprised us was the selection of Dr. Richard Ellenbogen as co-chair of the newly-named NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Dr. Ellenbogen hails from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as chief of neurological surgery and has been very proactive at the state level in legislation regarding concussions in youth athletics.
George Visger was the perfect poster-boy for NFL brain concussions to contact Dr. Ellenbogen: Incredibly intelligent, well-spoken and very vocal as a perfect spokesman on the long-term damage from severe brain concussions that resulted directly from his career in professional football. George has been relentlessly involved with a two-pronged approach to the NFL’s concussion problem: The NFL needs to be held to the same standard as any employer in America when it comes to taking care of its injured employees – both active and retired – and clear rules need to be put in place to ensure worker safety both on and off the field. Last month, George proposed a detailed set of rules that address the most important issue facing the NFL, the NFLPA and its employees. The proposed rules were the result of collaboration among a group of retired players who worked with George to develop some guidelines that have been long overdue. We think they make a lot of sense and it covers ALL players with a common sense approach that only players with first-hand experience could develop.
On a side note before we present the Visger Rules, we had sent a proposal to DeMaurice Smith several months back as the Amen Clinic trials was closing to see if the NFLPA would be interested in funding brain scans for active players BEFORE and AFTER they started their careers, as well as brain scans for all retired players. After seeing the need to continue helping the retired football players, Dr. Amen had graciously offered an incredibly discounted rate for any and all players sent to any of his clinics. Our proposal was simple: ALL active players would have a SPECT scan before starting their careers as well as when they retired; and ALL retired players would be allowed a brain scan as a new benefit. The cost would have been relatively minimal (considering all the money we see wasted every year as disclosed in the annual LM-2 filings) but the impact and effect would be invaluable to each and every player for a lifetime. George’s proposal goes even further: Each active player would also be required to have annual brain scans as an integral part of their mandatory checkup regimen. With the medical technology available today, each player and the Union could easily be provided with up-to-the-minute information on their entire physical condition that’s complete and accurate to help prevent further injuries. We felt that the proposal was the right thing to do and very pro-player (pro-employee – which is what Unions are supposed to be). Given the League’s recent gestures in this direction, the timing couldn’t have been better for the PA to initiate such a plan. After all, what could the League have to say against such a proactive move? This could easily be a high priority issue during any CBA negotiations which is why we felt it was important enough to present the idea directly to DeMaurice Smith. There has been absolutely NO response since the proposal was sent to them in April. We have no idea why this wouldn’t be a perfect issue for the Union (the retired AND active players’ Union) to take up with the League right now to show real unity by protecting all of its men – past and present. As with everything else, it seems we’re all still waiting just for a response…
NFL Rule Changes to Reduce Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Mandatory base line cognitive testing before and after each season (Micro Cog test). Testing to be repeated after any head injury and player not allowed to return until at 100% cognitive functioning. Track changes in cognitive abilities year-to-year. Set a limit on % declines from original baseline before retirement is mandatory due to declines. (e.g. – If a player’s preseason micro cog test declines by 20% from his first season test, he’s done playing for good.);
- Mandatory SPECT scans prior to first game of each season and post-season.
- ALL team doctors AND trainers to be formally trained in diagnosing and treatment of concussions. Have an independent panel prepare standard diagnostic and treatment protocols for certification. Doctors and trainers must be certified to examine and clear players. Certified staff who clear players prior to full cognitive functioning, or if player sustains an additional concussion during first game he returns, shall be fined 1/8 of annual salary.* (Much cheaper than 28 years of hydrocephalus. I was told I used 25 – 30 smelling salts during my first game with San Francisco and the trainers kept giving me 3 or 4 each time I came out);
- Owners of teams in violation of certification (allowing non certified staff to exam or clear concussed players) shall forfeit TV revenue for one season.*
- Mandatory impact-reducing mouth guards, 15-yard penalty for 1st infraction, penalty and warning for second infraction, penalty and ejection from game if cited for third time during the same game;
- Mandatory Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Tanks in each stadium, or within a radius allowing treatment of concussed athletes within 4 hours of injury. Studies have shown nearly 100% return of cognitive functioning within 24 hours if treated immediately after sustaining a concussion;
- Remove face masks and/or helmets (cause players to resist sticking their face between the numbers as we were always taught). Will dramatically reduce use of the head as a weapon. Too many head injuries are self-inflicted. ( Far-fetched I know – this one will probably never happen!);
- Install impact-registering devices in helmets (accelerometers). Set maximum limit threshold per game & per season. Player removed from game when reaching max and done with season when reaching seasonal max (or a cumulative sum of G’s or ft/lbs/season?).
- Start all linemen from a 2-point stance;
- Linebackers must line up within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage;
- Eliminate leading with the head when blocking and tackling. Go back to teaching shoulder tackling and blocking like they used to. (It would be interesting to see how the rate of head injuries and concussions have increased with advancement of head protection equipment such as helmets, face masks, etc.);
- Teach position blocking rather than putting head between a defensive player and the ball; offensive line taught to use upper body strength and more boxing to position defensive player;
- Change fundamentals of line play from bull rushing and drive blocking, to faking/counter moves on defense, and false reads on offensive – more technique-driven vs. power-driven;
- Focus offensive schemes on misdirection plays, fakes, multiple pitches (as in rugby); this would prevent defensive players from coming in for the kill on tackles. Would require a more controlled approach and breaking down before striking a blow to a ball carrier, who may pitch the ball;
- Automatic first down if you complete 3 passes in a row for positive yardage (would create more of a passing attack with less blasting through holes);
- Defensive schemes to teach stringing the ball carrier out & using the sideline to prevent gaining yards;
- Eliminate trap blocks and crack back blocks;
- Illegal for RB to dive over line in short yardage situation (impossible to do without leading with head) – must keep both feet on ground;
- During preseason camp, a maximum three days/week in pads and maximum once-per-week during season;
- Maximum 2 preseason games and 16 regular season games.
- Automatic ejection from game and forfeit 1/16 of yearly salary for hitting an unprotected player with your helmet (e.g. – receiver going for ball, QB, kicker during kick or follow-through)*;
- Automatic ejection and forfeiture of 4 weeks salary* for intentionally striking any player helmet-to-helmet. May be applied to both players during play;
- 15-yard penalty for RB to lead with head when hitting hole if within 10 yards of goal line; 10-yard penalty if outside 10 yard line (Major Penalty);
- 15-yard penalty for defensive player to submarine tackle with head (dive at legs head first) (Major Penalty);
- 8 game suspension for spearing* (Major Penalty);
- Team owners to forfeit TV rights to one game and head coach suspended and forfeit pay for one game, if team is cited for 8 or more Major Penalties in a 4-game span*;
- Team forfeits TV rights for season if cumulative number of major hits exceeds 16 per season. (Money split between independently-managed Retired Players Fund, Hydrocephalus Associations and TBI groups);
- Coaches who override a Doctor/trainer’s recommendation to sit a player, or pressure a Doctor to clear a player or retaliate against a player for not playing with a head injury to be fined ¼ of annual salary* AND suspended from all football-related activities for 4 weeks;
- Players offered cash incentives for reporting head injuries to themselves or teammates – information kept strictly confidential: 5% of weekly pay (?) or a lump sum payment;
- Players cannot lose starting position when returning from head injury.
* Money to be placed into an independently-managed Retired Players Fund. We already know how the NFL and the NFLPA “manages” Retired Players funds.