NEW YORK — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imagines a day when players could be checked to determine whether their genetic makeup leaves them more likely to develop brain disease. They then might be told to switch to a less dangerous position – or give up football entirely.
“In talking to the medical experts over several years, I think there’s a predisposition to most injuries, particularly to the brain, or to brain disease,” Goodell said in an interview Monday. “So we do want to know what those biomarkers are.”
Goodell also envisions players being required – with the union’s OK, of course – to wear helmets with sensors to detect hits that cause concussions. Those helmets might be lighter and “less of a weapon” than today’s, he said.
Those are the kinds of advances the NFL and General Electric are hoping to produce in a partnership announced Monday that could funnel up to $60 million over four years to research on head injuries and possible improvements to helmets.
“Imaging of the brain, studying the brain, is still pretty far behind the study of cancer, heart disease, things like that,” GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said. “I look at this as a catalyst in terms of where the technology will go. … I would say you’re going to start seeing really strong activities almost immediately.”
Goodell agreed about the importance of quick progress.
“We weren’t looking at a long timetable,” he said. “We wanted to see results quickly.”
The Head Health Initiative described Monday, which also includes sports apparel and equipment maker Under Armour, involves a four-year, $40 million research and development program to find ways to detect and diagnose brain injuries, and a two-year “innovation challenge” that would put up to $20 million toward research to protect against those injuries.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is pleased to see these kinds of projects now.
“Everyone has been spending money in bits and pieces, but now it will be concentrated and this will become a tremendous resource,” he added. “I don’t think anyone has the answers, how to treat it, whether to continue to play – there haven’t been answers, and we need to find the answers.”