With two fierce rivals taking the field in the Harvard-Yale game on Saturday, athletes might be more concerned with defending their school’s honor than staying safe. However, in Thursday’s lecture "Leadership on the Road to a Safer Game," Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), expressed his hope that people will reconsider this "warrior mentality."
Goodell spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health, discussing the NFL’s commitment to achieving greater safety.
In light of increased focus on concussions and other medical trauma in today’s athletics, Goodell hopes to emphasize the importance of athletes’ well-being, while still maintaining a competitive spirit.
"My commitment has been and will continue to be to change the culture of football to better protect players without changing the essence of what makes the game so popular," Goodell said.
According to Goodell, concussions affect more than 30 million athletes in the United States.
Still, he remains hopeful about changing safety measures. According to Goodell, football was the victim of mass criticism in 1905 after 18 student athletes suffered fatal injuries. As a result, President Theodore Roosevelt, class of 1880, summoned representatives from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House to discuss potential safety reforms.
"President Roosevelt recognized the game didn’t need to end; it needed to evolve," Goodell said.
With this same hope for improvement in mind, the NFL is supporting brain injury research by committing $30 million to the National Institutes of Health.
The NFL has also made a number of recent changes to its rules, including moving the kickoff line five yards forward, which decreased the concussion rate during kickoffs by 40 percent. Next year, players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads.
Accelerometers in helmets and sensors in shoulder pads are currently being tested to gather information about the mechanism of injury. Perhaps most significantly, Goodell said, medical staff are using video recordings to more quickly and more effectively treat injuries.
Goodell hopes the NFL will continue to be an advocate for safety across all fields. Some Ivy League teams have already adopted similar policies.
"I have never been more optimistic about football’s future," he said. “Optimistic, but not complacent.”