Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer gave a presentation on the new safety strategies being implemented around the league at the Franklin Noon Rotary Club’s Thursday meeting at the Williamson County Enrichment Center.
Sills’ job is to work with the NFL’s medical staff and make the game safer for the players. In recent years, the NFL has ben focused on how to reduce the number of concussions and gain a better understanding for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, also known as CTE. This is a brain condition associated with repeated blows to the head and is commonly associated with former NFL players.
Sills, a Franklin resident, sat down with the Williamson Herald for a Q&A session after meeting with the rotary club.
Williamson Herald: What is the NFL’s stance on CTE?
Sills: “You can’t pick up the media to read about football and not read about CTE. Let me be very clear about where I and where the NFL stands on CTE. We believe that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a very real disease. Right now, we’ve seen it best and understand it best at autopsy. We’re still really in our infancy in understanding who’s susceptible and why they’re susceptible. We ask ourselves, ‘Can we modify those factors, and can we employ preventative efforts?’ It’s a very real disorder and it’s up to all of us to learn more about it.”
WH: What is being done to better understand CTE?
Sills: “The NFL has spent millions of dollars on trying to better understand these long-term events. I’m proud of the fact that we are trying to put our money where our mouth is and we’re supporting this research. Unfortunately, research takes time and there’s just going to be a period where we’ve got to do the work and get through this.”
WH: Until the NFL understands and knows more, how do you advise players and parents, and everyone associated with the game?
Sills: “The best answer is prevention. The best treatment for a disease is prevention. We want to reduce and modify the levels of head contact in football at all levels. This will be a revamp from how we teach the game, how we train the players, what equipment we use and what rules we implement.”
WH: What was the catalyst for this concussion reform?
Sills: “In the 2017 we had a crisis, we had an all-time high in concussions with 291. It was actually a call to action for us, we’ve got to do something. While this number was a reflection of our ability to better understand and determine concussions, I felt it was still unacceptable to stand there and watch the number brain injuries in the game grow ever higher.”
WH: How do you prevent head trauma in a sport like football?
Sills: “We designed what we call the Concussion Reduction Strategy. This had three components we chose to tackle. One, we wanted to drop the number of players being hurt in the preseason practices, to do that we outlawed certain drills. Two, we wanted to get players in better and safer helmets, so we made a safety list banning certain helmets that don’t meet the NFL’s standards. Finally, we wanted to remove the style of play that leads to brain injury. This prompted some rule changes on what a clean tackle looks like, as well as, some changes to kick-offs.”
WH: How did coaches respond to the data on concussions and the rule changes during this past season?
Sills: “The coaches responded well to the changes. Last year I sat down with all the NFL coaches, GMs and owners across the league, and gave a presentation on our data about concussions and head injury in the game. When I was done, I sat down and waited for questions, then a certain coach from New England stood up. I thought, ‘Oh great, here it comes, because this guy isn’t known for being a ray of sunshine.’ Belichick stood up and said, ‘The evidence is there, we can see the damage this game does to our players and we must make a change.’ Then he sat down, and Mike Tomlin stood up and Pete Carroll, by the end of it every coach had come to a unanimous agreement that the game needs to change. With the league’s support we’ve been changing rules and implementing strategies to make the game safer. Last season, that’s 2018, we saw a 25 percent decrease in the number of concussions league wide. However, there’s still more we need to do.
WH: What impact has the opioid crisis in this country had on the NFL’s medical practices?
Sills: “About three weeks ago we announced a brand-new program around pain management. It’s a joint agreement between the league and the players association. Every team will be required to have a pain management specialist, who has training and expertise in the management of complex pain. We also created a joint committee between the league and the players association to continue to investigate ways to manage pain using medicine and non-medicine.”
WH: Is the NFL considering using marijuana and CBD products for pain management in light of its recent decimalization and legalization in some areas of the country?
Sills: “We’ve asked this pain management committee to look at any and all treatments for pain. So certainly, that will include marijuana, CBD and other cannabinoids. The important thing for us is that any recommendations we bring will have to be driven by science, not personal opinion or anecdote.”