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Is NFL’s Appointment of New Health and Medical Advisor a Band-Aid Fix?

11 Feb, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Announcement Sparse on Details as to Exactly What the New Role Will Include

With much fanfare, the NFL made an announcement that it has appointed Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Dr. Elizabeth Nabel as its first chief health and medical advisor. Unfortunately, opinion seems to be that the league has resorted to shutting the barn door after the horse had fled with an untreated concussion.

An article in Sports Illustrated, for example, noted the inconsistencies in the announcement, including the fact that the previous week, Boston-based Nabel said she wouldn’t be joining the NFL, stating she had “no intention of leaving our beloved Brigham.”

Current information from the NFL is that Nabel will continue in her position at the hospital and as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

It is unclear whether a post that seems to be a part-time consultancy, at best, is going to be sufficient to accomplish the league’s stated goal of making the sport safer. Sports Illustrated’s article pointed out that thousands of former players have sued the league, claiming the NFL hid the dangers of playing football and did nothing to help players deal with head injuries suffered during their playing days. A proposed $765 million settlement was agreed to last summer, but U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who is presiding over the lawsuit, says the settlement should include medical coverage for families whose loved ones have died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) between the time the settlement was agreed to and now. If so, Dr. Nabel may have her hands full right away.

The announcement of the new post was, according to an article in Forbes.com, a no-brainer for the league, which saw in 2014 perhaps one of the worst years, spin-wise, in its history. And Commissioner Roger Goodell, Forbes notes, has been less than forthcoming, which could indicate many decisions have yet to be made regarding the scope of the position:

“He used the press conference to highlight the importance of player safety, but did not lay out specifics of what the new role would entail. This announcement just one day after the health and safety report that concussions in the NFL were down 25% from the previous season and the Coalition For Concussion Treatment’s annual board meeting that includes former NFL players proves the league can no longer look the other way.”

Should the NFL be accused of appointing a woman to the post solely for the purpose of marketing, the league’s choice of candidate is hard to argue with; Dr. Nabel’s credentials are impeccable. And the NFL, to its credit, has made other strides. In January, attorney Lisa Friel’s hiring by the NFL as a consultant regarding the restructured policy on players’ personal conduct was heralded as a positive move as well.

The NFL seems to be reaching out, not only for expertise, but for public affirmation of its efforts. It is, for now, unclear whether or not the new appointments can turn the league – and the sport – in a positive direction.

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