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Roger Goodell talks player safety, faces critics at Harvard School of Public Health

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke for nearly an hour about player safety and concussions Thursday at the Harvard School of Public Health, and he faced some tough critics in the process.

Throughout his speech, Goodell spoke of the measures the league has taken to improve safety and why the NFL has set a good example for the other sports, but he was questioned heavily by those on hand afterwards.

Audience members pointed to the proposed 18-game schedule in the last CBA negotiations and the league’s Thursday night games as examples as to how the commissioner and the league may be doing what’s in the owners’ best interests rather than focusing on the players’ safety.

One question fielded by the commissioner came from an audience member who noted that the Ravens had to play four games in 17 days, and that in the process the team lost such star players as Ray Lewis [1] and Lardarius Webb.

Goodell responded by saying to be careful of “drawing conclusions without facts.”

“Is that really what’s causing the injury? Did that cause Ray Lewis’ arm injury?” Goodell said. “The fact is we have to look at the data and the results and see, is there a higher frequency of injuries? We have not seen that.”

Goodell added that most players he has spoken to like having the Thursday night games because of how light their workload is practice-wise in the days leading up to them. He also cited the extra time off between games as a reason as to why players have welcomed the addition of more Thursday night games.

“The reaction, while always mixed, has been quite positive on the players’ standpoint,” he said. “Also, we have not seen anything in our injury data that would indicate [that players are at a greater risk because of Thursday games]. If we did, we would certainly evaluate that.”

During his speech, Goodell pointed to Alex Smith [2], Jay Cutler [3] and Michael Vick [4] all leaving their games this week with concussion symptoms as a sign that players and teams are getting better at handling the issue of concussions. That was later refuted by an audience member who pointed out that though Smith left that game against the Rams eventually, he stayed in after taking a hit from Jo-Lonn Dunbar and threw a touchdown pass with blurred vision.

“The players were taken out when they developed symptoms,” Goodell said. “If they don’t tell medical professionals that they’re getting symptoms, it’s difficult to tell. If we see an impact that he’s showing symptoms, then we’ll take him out of the game. In addition, we need teammates to be able to say, ‘This guy’s not right. Something’s wrong. He needs to be evaluated,’ and get him off the field.”