NEW YORK — The NFL plans to require coaches and other team staff members to undergo special training in the next two months to learn how to recognize signs of concussions and other brain injuries.
The policy is in effect throughout the regular season and is designed to help in player safety, and in concussions prevention and treatment. According to a memo to all 32 teams obtained Sunday by The Associated Press, trainers and coaches would receive eight hours of instruction from the NFL.
All league employees and those outside the NFL who come into contact with players or work with NFL teams will receive training at NFL events leading up to the season. Coaches will get the additional training as part of the standard pre-season and regular-season education sessions.
Coaches must complete the guidelines by Feb. 15. They are also being encouraged to view educational videos and read materials about concussions and traumatic brain injuries available online.
“The goal of this national program is to equip them with knowledge and tools to work with the team’s medical team to identify the earliest signs and symptoms of concussions, in order to maintain their player safety,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Recently retired NFL quarterback Justin Blackmon said he was treated for concussions — but did not show signs of ones he sustained — until he decided to retire in 2016.
The NFL found a “lack of understanding” among players about concussions in 2015, and more than 3,200 players were examined for brain injuries between 2008 and 2016. There were 84 concussions during the 2016 season, the most recent data available.
At the scouting combine last month, several players said they believe more help is needed for the brain injury epidemic.
“I think the NFL and the coaches, coaches need to start to do a better job, the doctors need to start doing a better job of education and the player’s needs to be educated about what to do, what not to do,” said Sam Keller, a former Louisville running back who played in the league for two years. “I think every player needs to go to a specialist for that — their doctors — and they should be telling them how to protect themselves when they get hurt so that they can be back in play quicker.”
Former Florida State safety Michael Thomas said the lack of knowledge is a huge part of the problem.
“In order to protect the players, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for,” he said. “I’ve never had a concussion. I never felt anything, but I’m not stupid, so I know what’s going on. I know how to protect myself.”
Thomas’ son, Clemson safety Lorenzo Thomas, told a South Carolina newspaper, “I just wish I knew more.”
Mark Barnett, a former Miami linebacker who played in the NFL from 1989-92, said a doctor who played in the league for 20 years advised players on concussions and the importance of limiting injuries while playing, including those to the head.
“When a guy is experiencing a headache and doesn’t seem right, if he’s asking to get out of the game, he’s at risk for a concussion,” Barnett said. “And that doctor knows.”
According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control in September, a new high of 2.2 million Americans were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury in 2016. That study included 1.55 million people ages 18 to 65, and 42 percent of them had a head injury that led to a concussion.
“This new CDC report confirms that we’re seeing more, and more severe, concussions,” said Steve Strauss, a neuropsychologist at Duke University who helped develop and helped spread the NFL program. “While our study showed that concussion rates and frequencies vary widely by location, sport, and decade, we’ve seen some troubling trends in those with young children and young adults.”