Army, NFL Team Up in Offensive Against Traumatic Brain Injury

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By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — Only days before the opening game of the NFL season, the NFL and Army announced they were teaming up to raise awareness about TBI, an injury that plagues both organizations.

On Aug. 30, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell signed a joint letter to troops and football players stating the organizations “are seeking to integrate the uncompromising devotion to win with a need to address traumatic brain injuries with the necessary care, consideration, and commitment to prevention that these injuries require.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met to sign a letter formalizing the brain injury initiative between the Army and the NFL
-Photo by Tommy Gilligan / U.S. Military Academy PAO

“This initiative today represents another step forward in sharing research — medical research that can help our troops, help our players, and help people well beyond those two entities in sports and society,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We believe we can do that by working together to pioneer research…We also believe we can do more by helping bring greater awareness, not just within our two organizations, but to society in general.”

As part of the initiative, the NFL also is launching a website, www.NFL.com/militaryto provide troops with “exclusive football news and the most up-to-date information on brain injuries.”

“Mental and physical toughness, discipline, team over self, and the importance of resiliency are fundamental to both the Army and National Football League,” Odierno said. “These are common traits we inculcate in our cultures. In the Army, we have the warrior ethos, which is reinforced by the Soldier’s Creed. This is essential for us, because our soldiers operate in some of the most complex and difficult environments in the world. But, these same traits, although commendable, sometimes make it difficult for individuals to come forward with potential issues they have physically and especially mentally.”

TBI Research

The partnership comes when the NFL and military increasingly face questions about the long-term impact of head injuries. Concerns have emerged that troops and NFL players are at risk for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder, leading to dementia, which some scientists have linked to athletes with multiple concussions and, more recently, war veterans.

On the NFL side, the long-term impact of concussions on players historically has been a controversial issue. Goodell annoyed some members of Congress when he would not acknowledge at a 2009 hearing that a direct link exists between head injuries and the development of dementia. At a January 2010 hearing, neurologist Ira Casson MD, the former co-chairman of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, dismissed the idea that there was strong enough evidence to link head trauma and CTE.

More recently, the NFL has responded to the concern with funding. Last month, the group announced it would provide $30 million for medical research to the foundation for the National Institutes of Health for brain injury research. It was the “single-largest donation to any organization in the league’s 92-year history,” according to an NFL statement.

“Specific plans for the research will remain to be developed, but potential areas under discussion include accelerating the pace of discovery to support the most innovative and promising science of the brain, including: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE); concussion management and treatment and the understanding of the potential relationship between traumatic brain injury and late-life neurodegenerative disorders, especially Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the statement.

That announcement was made the same day a new study of more than 3,000 retired NFL players revealed that those who served five or more seasons in the NFL were four times as likely as other men their age to die of  Alzheimer’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

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