NFL Commissioner talks sport safety at UNC - WNCN: News, Weather

NFL Commissioner talks sport safety at UNC

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

Arguably the most powerful man in sports visited the Triangle today.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at UNC Chapel Hill to defend the league's approach to head injuries.

"Science can be a game changer in making sports safer," he said, pointing to concussion research at UNC led by Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz.

"From the data collected here at UNC and at other universities, Dr. Guskiewicz committee learned that the most severe head impacts occur on kickoffs where the injury rate is higher," he said.

That led to the NFL changing the kickoff rule two years ago, moving from the 30 to 35 yard line.

"The result has been a 40 percent reduction in the number of concussions in each of the past two seasons," Goodell said.

That 40 percent reduction applies to kickoffs, but concussions overall were down only bit more than one percent..

Goodell repeatedly said he wants the NFL to be a leader and that he wants the discussion about concussions to broaden beyond football and into other sports.

"Football concussions account for a small percentage of the total number of concussions each year," he said.

Guskiewicz, Chair of Exercise and Sport Science department and the Kenan Distinguished Professor and Director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, was once critical of the NFL, saying it wasn't taking the issue of concussions seriously enough.

He now supports the league's handling, even serving on the NFL committee looking at head, neck and spines – and chairs a subcommittee.

"Roger Goodell's legacy will be health and safety for players. He's getting beat up on that because as you know the players union feels that he is being too harsh in terms of the penalties and suspensions and the game changing drastically," Guskiewicz said.

That shakeup is what Goodell says is the biggest challenge --- a culture change.

This season players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads, he said. In two weeks an NFL committee will recommend several new rule changes.

Meanwhile, research at UNC continues. Right now Guskiewicz is studying how many hits occur during a week on the collegiate level. Anecdotally, he said there's less hitting happening at the NFL level.

Also - they're looking at the three point stance, and the impact on the crown of the head.

The use of accelerometers in helmets to capture hits as been the foundation of much of the UNC research.

Goodell says he plans to implement that technology more and more in the NFL and piloting some of it this year.

"I am very confident that the work that Kevin and his committee and also this university is doing is going to have a huge impact on football and the NFL going forward," he said.

Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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