WASHINGTON — The NFL and its players union have
approved independent doctors to evaluate head injuries for about half of the
league's 32 teams as part of a new program.
The NFL Players Association medical director, Dr. Thom
Mayer, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday that "the
quality of people brought forward has been first rate" and none of the doctors
proposed by teams has been rejected so far.
The NFL said Sunday it is requiring teams to find outside
experts in neurology to aid their medical staffs when players get concussions.
Mayer and the NFL's medical adviser are vetting the doctors jointly, a process
that began in recent weeks, according to Mayer.
"The plan is simply to ensure that every team has a
highly qualified neurologist or neurosurgeon working with its medical staff,"
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "We are working with the
union to identify and mutually approve those specialists for each team."
There is no deadline for implementing the new setup
across the league, but doctors will start working with teams "as soon as the
specialist is selected and on board," Aiello wrote.
He cited the Pittsburgh Steelers as an example of a team
that already has an arrangement in place, with the doctors that Philadelphia
Eagles running back Brian Westbrook recently went to see about his concussion.
There are details of the program that still need to be
figured out, according to Mayer, such as who will pay the independent doctors,
whether the doctors will be on the sidelines at games, and, if so, whether there
would be one expert present per team or one per game.
"We are considering whether they should be paid by the
teams, by the league or frankly by the union," Mayer said.
During interviews with 160 NFL players conducted by The
Associated Press from Nov. 2-15, 30 replied they have hidden or played down the
effects of a concussion. Half said they've had at least one concussion playing
High-profile players such as Westbrook and running back
Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins have missed games in recent weeks
because of head injuries.
On Sunday, the two starting quarterbacks from last
season's Super Bowl left their teams' games after taking blows to the head: Ben
Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kurt Warner of the Arizona
Cardinals. Three members of the St. Louis Rams — quarterback Marc Bulger,
linebacker Chris Chamberlain and offensive tackle Jason Smith — are slated to be
tested for possible concussions on Tuesday.
These newly appointed neurologists would be "independent
of the teams themselves, and they're rendering an opinion that is guided by
expertise in concussions," the NFLPA's Mayer said. "They're not part of the club
medical staff, so they're an independent voice with regard to whether the
player's ready to return or not."
In discussing the new policy about independent
neurologists during an NBC appearance on Sunday night, NFL commissioner Roger
Goodell said: "We want to give players the best medical advice. This is a chance
for us to expand that and bring more people into the circle to make sure we're
making the best decisions for our players in the long term."