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NFL changes return rules for concussions

| Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

NFL teams now have new, stricter instructions for when players should be allowed to return to games or practices after head injuries, guidelines that go into effect this week.

In the latest step by the league to address a hot-button issue, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the 32 clubs Wednesday saying a player who gets a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he shows certain signs or symptoms.

Those include an inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory, persistent dizziness, and persistent headaches.

The old standard, established in 2007, said a player should not be allowed to return to the same game if he lost consciousness.

Wednesday's memo also says players "are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion."

Nearly one-fifth of 160 NFL players surveyed by The Associated Press from Nov. 2-15 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion.

The league said its concussion committee, team doctors, outside medical experts and the NFL Players Association developed the new standards.

NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah said the union is "encouraged by this new policy." He added that the NFLPA "will continue to examine these issues independently to recommend the best possible policies and procedures."

The new policy states, in part: "Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptotic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant."

Teams were told this month they have to find an outside neurologist who can be consulted on concussions, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said this week the league is "very close" to having all of those independent doctors approved and in place.

Since last month's congressional hearing on NFL head injuries, momentum has been building for changes in league policy. The revised return-to-play rules come about a week after Goodell sent a memo to clubs informing them that the two co-chairmen of the league's concussions committee had resigned and that he has been looking into possible rule changes.

On Wednesday, Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis was put on injured reserve with post-concussion symptoms, ending his NFL career. Lewis had previously said he would retire at the end of the season. His teammate, starting safety Brodney Pool, also went on IR after getting at least his fourth known concussion last weekend.

They were among 11 players listed on Wednesday's league-wide injury report with concussions. Another eight were listed with head injuries.

The two starting quarterbacks from last season's Super Bowl — the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Cardinals' Kurt Warner — sat out last Sunday after saying during the week they planned to play despite getting head injuries the previous week.

"The evidence demonstrates that team medical staffs have been addressing concussions in an increasingly cautious and conservative way," Goodell wrote in Wednesday's memo. "This new return-to-play statement reinforces our commitment to advancing player safety. Along with improved equipment, better education, and rules changes designed to reduce impacts to the head, it will make our game safer for the men who play it, and set an important example for players at all levels of play."

» Arizona's Kurt Warner said he had his "best day yet" since sustaining a concussion two games ago. Still, Warner split practice time with backup Matt Leinart yesterday, as coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff took a cautious approach to handling the 38-year-old quarterback's head injury.

» Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner sat out practice yesterday but isn't giving up on playing in a crucial game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Turner initially sustained a high right ankle sprain in a Nov. 15 loss at Carolina.

» Brian Westbrook remains sidelined with a concussion, and DeSean Jackson's status for Philadelphia's game at Atlanta is uncertain after he sustained a head injury.

» Bills starting cornerback Terrence McGee is questionable for the Buffalo's game against the New York Jets tonight because of a knee injury.

» Disgruntled Oakland Raiders fans are making a high-profile plea for owner Al Davis to step down as the team's general manager. A billboard was posted on the freeway near the Oakland Coliseum this week, saying "MR. DAVIS, DO THE RIGHT THING, PLEASE HIRE A GM."

» The New Orleans Saints' win over the New England Patriots was the second-most-watched cable telecast of all time. The Saints' 38-17 win to improve to 11-0 on "Monday Night Football" on ESPN was seen by 21.4 million viewers, second only to the 21.8 million for the Packers-Vikings game Oct. 5. The 15.0 rating was the second-highest in the network's 30-year history, also second to that Green Bay-Minnesota game, which earned a 15.3.

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