The NFL's best investment – the health of the players

Tonight is the beginning of one of the National Football League’s (NFL) signature events, The Draft. That’s right, having names called, young men walk up, and talking heads spew information and misinformation about them and their future in the NFL is a MAJOR event. (I’ll be watching). It is also for many of these players the culmination of a dream, of having an opportunity to play at the highest level. And with all the great joy that comes with playing, there also come with a heightened sense of risk; that is risk to their health.

But that is the nature of the game they have been playing most of their lives. And the NFL, as the employer of these players, has stepped up its diligence in understanding issues that may impact the short term and long term health of these players.

In a follow up to stories that we have done before regarding the issue of brain injury and short and long term effects on players, we are happy to report that the Boston University School of Medicine’s (my brother’s alma mater) Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy accepted the NFL’s offer of $1M in support of its ongoing brain injury research.

A key factor in the School’s acceptance was the unrestricted nature of the grant, so that in essence, the researchers can go in the direction in which the findings are taking them, without being beholden to the NFL or anyone else. Credit to the NFL for taking another step in better understanding issues that impact its most important constituency, the players.

You can read more about the announcement in the New York Times.

And while much of the discussion about brain injury is about the impact on the players long after their playing careers are over, there are issues that can impact the players now, whether they are at practice or in games. One of those health issues is heat stroke.

Korey Stringer, an All-Pro lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, died from complications due to heat stroke during a pre-season training camp in 2001. Korey’s death brought significant attention to the risks of playing under such extreme conditions, especially when the proper practices, resources, and oversight are not in place. Much has been done over the past 9 years and more needs to be done.

With that in mind, the NFL and the University of Connecticut have partnered with Korey’s wife, Kelci Stringer, to establish the Korey Stringer Institute at UConn’s Neag School of Education. The institute, whose creation will be formally announced on Friday at the NFL Draft, will study heat-related deaths among athletes.

According to the press release from the University, “The institute was made possible through important financial support provided by the National Football League and Gatorade. It comes at a time when statistics show that death from exertional heat stroke is more prevalent than ever. There have been more heat stroke-related deaths in sport in the past five-year span than in any other five-year span in the past 35 years, Casa says.”

So we have today two announcements in which a professional sports league has partnered with a leading academic institution due to the tireless efforts of individuals impacted by a tragic event to alter perspectives and practices. Millions of players, parents and fans will be the beneficiaries of such a wonderful convergence of purpose.