NFL Official: Still Much to Learn About Safety

NFL says it has grown safer, but there's more to be done

After becoming the NFL's first chief medical and health adviser in February, Dr. Betsy Nabel has already reached a few preliminary conclusions about the league and its safety.

USA Today reports that Dr. Nabel recently made three recommendations to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after her first months on the job: more research, a review of how behavioral health influences physical health and improved communications with the public at large.

"My goal is to improve the health of all players in the NFL and to make the game as safe as possible," she told reporters this week. "Furthermore, I believe the NFL has a major leadership role nationally to improving the health and safety of players in all sports, and will have a watershed effect on college sports and the NCAA and on pro sports for men and women."

Dr. Nabel's comments come on the heels of a landmark settlement in April that will reward retired NFL players with compensation for conditions that were likely caused during their playing days. Head injuries remain at the forefront of concerns about the league's safety and the potential long-term health effects tied to playing football.

"We're just at the beginning of understanding the long-term effects of repetitive head injury," Dr. Nabel explained. "We need to better understand the basic biology, the basic mechanisms behind repetitive head injury, and then on the basis of that fundamental understanding, we can think of designing diagnostic tools and about developing treatment modalities."

In short, there's plenty left to learn. Already, however, the league appears to have made some significant progress.

As Russ Lonser, chair of the NFL's head, neck and spine subcommittee, put it to USA Today, "Building new rules and enforcing those rules with strict penalties have resulted in, over the past three years, a 25% reduction in concussions and a 40% reduction in helmet-to-helmet hits."

Rules adjustments aside, there's still work to be done.

"I think all of us would agree that we've got a long way to go," Dr. Nabel added. "This is going to be a long, hard journey."

A cardiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Nabel is also president of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Her new post with the NFL suggests just how seriously the league is starting to take longstanding safety issues.

"As a lifelong football fan, I look forward to working with the NFL in this advisory capacity to create the safest possible environment for NFL players," Dr. Nabel said to Bloomberg Business upon her selection in February. "My first order of business is to review the medical, health and scientific priorities that the NFL currently has in place, as well as assess the medical protocols an ongoing scientific research collaborations."