NFL's been cagey on con­cus­sions

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By ARON HELLER

JERUSALEM - Hall of Fame run­ning back Jerome Bet­tis says the NFL has taken ad­van­tage of its play­ers by not shar­ing with them all the in­for­ma­tion it had about the risk of con­cus­sions.

Af­ter view­ing an in­no­va­tion expo in Jerusalem that in­cluded a pre­sen­ta­tion from ElMindA, an Is­raeli neuro-tech­nol­ogy com­pany that can help the NFL di­ag­nose con­cus­sions, Bet­tis said Mon­day that he was en­cour­aged by the progress but still per­plexed about how trans­par­ent the league has been over the years.

“The prob­lem is we don't nec­es­sar­ily know all the things the league is do­ing. For in­stance, work­ing with this com­pany here, you don't know if they are work­ing with them closely to try to help solve the prob­lem,” Bet­tis said. “You def­i­nitely feel as though you were taken ad­van­tage of in a way that you weren't given that in­for­ma­tion, and you al­ways want to have the choice of know­ing, and when that is taken away from you, you feel as though you were taken ad­van­tage of.”

Bet­tis, the NFL's sixth all­time lead­ing rusher, said he suf­fered con­cus­sions dur­ing his 13-year ca­reer, adding, “I don't think you'll find many guys that had a long ca­reer, played 10-plus years, that didn't have a con­cus­sion.”

Af­ter years of de­nials, the NFL even­tu­ally ac­knowl­edged the link be­tween re­peated blows to the head dur­ing foot­ball and chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy, known as CTE. The is­sue also gar­nered wide at­ten­tion fol­low­ing the 2015 Will Smith film “Con­cus­sion.”

Just last week, the first two claims in the NFL's bil­lion­dol­lar con­cus­sion set­tle­ment were an­nounced, with a to­tal of $9 mil­lion in ben­e­fits. In the law­suit filed in Philadel­phia, the league was ac­cused of hid­ing what it knew about the link be­tween con­cus­sions and CTE, the de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease that has been found in dozens of for­mer play­ers af­ter their deaths.

In re­cent years, the NFL has un­der­taken a se­ries of ini­tia­tives both on the field and off, in­clud­ing spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on re­search into head trauma.

“The NFL in­vests and col­lab­o­rates with lead­ing ex­perts and in­no­va­tors to ad­vance progress in the pre­ven­tion, di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of head in­juries,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Bet­tis is one of 18 mem­bers of the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in Is­rael for a week­long visit or­ga­nized by New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots owner Robert Kraft. In ad­di­tion to boost­ing the fledg­ling lo­cal game, the del­e­ga­tion is also tour­ing re­li­gious and his­tor­i­cal sites, meet­ing prom­i­nent of­fi­cials and learn­ing about the coun­try's vi­brant tech­nol­ogy sec­tor.

The del­e­ga­tion, which in­cludes Joe Mon­tana, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach and Mike Sin­gle­tary, re­ceived pre­sen­ta­tions from 10 com­pa­nies at the expo. ElMindA, which is at the fore­front of the con­cus­sion re­search and has de­vel­oped a sys­tem based on a data­base of elec­tro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal brain record­ings that pro­vide per­son­al­ized func­tional cog­ni­tive map­ping, was clearly most rel­e­vant to the au­di­ence. “We have had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with the com­pany and con­tinue to mon­i­tor devel­op­ments, but the tech­nol­ogy is not cur­rently be­ing used,” McCarthy said.

Kraft's com­pany, The Kraft Group, has been an in­vestor in ElMindA since at least 2015.

Three-time All-Pro Ae­neas Wil­liams said he was pleased with how the NFL was han­dling the is­sue and us­ing tech­nol­ogy to make the game safer. Wil­liams, who re­tired in 2004 af­ter 14 years in the league, said there are far more pre­cau­tions in place than when he played. He was a team­mate of An­dre Wa­ters and Dave Duer­son, two for­mer play­ers fea­tured in “Con­cus­sion” who suf­fered cog­ni­tive is­sues be­fore killing them­selves, then were di­ag­nosed with CTE af­ter­ward.

“The tech­nol­ogy, the ad­just­ments that have been made, play­ers be­ing di­ag­nosed im­me­di­ately and hav­ing to stay out even against their own wishes. In the past, when I played, guys got back in the field or they just dis­guised it. We used to call it `hav­ing your bell rung,’” he said. “I am def­i­nitely ex­cited about today's player be­ing able to get ac­tion real-time as to what's go­ing on with their brains.”

Kraft said the expo ex­posed the play­ers to var­i­ous health is­sues that tran­scended con­cus­sions alone.

“I re­ally think that may be over­done a lit­tle bit. I mean, I don't think the game has ever been safer than it is now,” Kraft said, not­ing new rules, equip­ment and med­i­cal care avail­able.

Through Foot­ball Re­search Inc., a non­profit ded­i­cated to the re­search and devel­op­ment of novel meth­ods to pre­vent, mit­i­gate and treat trau­matic head in­jury, some of those ini­tia­tives in­clude: - Cre­at­ing a pro­gram for head pro­tec­tion based in in­jury-pre­ven­tion tech­niques proven suc­cess­ful in au­to­mo­bile safety tech­nol­ogy. - De­vel­op­ing ac­cu­rate im­pact sen­sors. - Ad­vanc­ing hel­met tech­nol­ogy to mit­i­gate im­pact force. - Cre­at­ing in­cen­tives for in­dus­try to use the re­search and de­velop new pro­tec­tive equip­ment, po­ten­tially even in­clud­ing po­si­tion-spe­cific hel­mets.

Kraft also em­pha­sized the on-field moves the league has made.

“I mean we have in­de­pen­dent doc­tors at the sta­di­ums that can take a player out, and when I started in the league the head coach was re­ally mak­ing cer­tain de­ci­sions,” Kraft said. “So I think we have made great strides mov­ing ahead in terms of the health of the game.”

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