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Steelers form brain injury foundation named after coach Chuck Noll

| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, 11:30 a.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Steelers coach Chuck Noll on the sideline against the Oakland Raiders in a playoff game on Dec. 23, 1972, in Pittsburgh.

Following the lead the NFL, the Steelers on Thursday announced a foundation aimed to prevent and treat sports-related concussions.

Establishment of the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research will support research and education about brain injuries. Steelers president Art Rooney II announced a $1 million contribution to launch the foundation, named after the late Hall of Fame coach.

The announcement comes about two months after the NFL pledged $100 million in concussion research funding.

“This is a fantastic development, and we applaud the Steelers for their commitment to advancing research that will benefit athletes in all sports and at all levels,” said Brian McCarthy, NFL vice president of communications.

The foundation, according to its mission statement, will provide funding for “research projects relating to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of injuries of the brain,” while also engaging in “fundraising activities to allow for continuous grant making to support worthy research projects.”

The foundation will be housed in Pittsburgh, which also is home of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program since 2000.

Funding decisions will be approved by the foundation's board of directors, a group that includes former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, whose NFL career was cut short by two concussions in 1994. The board also includes Rooney II and Steelers co-owners Rob Citrone and Larry Paul.

“It's only fitting that the Steelers continue to be a pioneer toward helping the game of football become safer for all of those who love it,” Hoge said in a press release.

The foundation's medical advisory panel includes Dr. Julian Bailes, a former Steelers neurosurgeon and head of the medical advisory board of Pop Warner Football; Dr. Regis Haid, founding partner of the Atlanta Brain and Spine Care Center; and UPMC neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon, the first team-appointed neurosurgeon with the Steelers in 1982.

“Research and education is the underlying principle in which the foundation has been founded,” Maroon said. “Art and Dan (Rooney) couldn't have picked a better individual to honor than Chuck Noll.”

Maroon said Noll, the first NFL coach to win four Super Bowl titles, was instrumental in the Steelers becoming the first professional sports team to adopt ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) as a way of diagnosing concussions. The NFL has used ImPACT for all of its teams since 2007.

In 1990, when informed that one of his players had to sit out with a concussion, Noll asked Maroon for “objective data” to determine a head injury. This led to Maroon to join colleague Mark Lovell in developing ImPACT.

“At the time, I didn't really appreciate the significance of what we were doing,” Maroon said.

Maroon and Lovell encouraged the Steelers to adopt baseline testing as a reference point to compare cognitive functioning after a concussion. Noll was instrumental in getting his players to agree to the testing, Maroon said.

Maroon said the NHL was the first pro sports league to adopt ImPACT testing, with Major League Baseball, the NFL and 12,000 high schools following suit. He said the test is used in Europe and Australia.

In August, the FDA approved ImPACT and ImPACT Pediatric, a test designed specifically for children ages 6 to 12. More than 12 million athletes have received baseline testing via ImPACT.

“It's all due to Chuck Noll's wisdom, questioning and inquiry as to why things are the way they are,” Maroon said. “He said, ‘Give me objective data.' Evidenced-based medicine has been popular in the past 10 years, but over 20 years ago he was asking for this.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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