The U.S. Army and the National Football League boast among the most macho cultures of groups across the country. It is the kind of culture that says “man up” and get up and fight, or get up and play, even if you have sustained a head injury.
You don’t report brain injuries, and you don’t seek help for psychological problems. That’s the code. You don’t let down your team. You don’t abandon your fellow soldiers.
But last week the Army and the NFL announced they are teaming up on a long-term initiative that appears to be aimed at getting soldiers and football players alike to take traumatic brain injury and concussions seriously, and to report them when they happen.
In their joint press release, the Army and NFL said they plan “to enhance the health of its soldiers and players by sharing information, providing education and engaging in discussion on concussion and health-related issues that affect both organizations.”
According to the announcement, “The multi-faceted initiative, built upon the mutual respect shared by the two organizations, is designed to promote help-seeking behaviors and empower soldiers and players to maintain healthier minds on the playing field and battlefield. The initiative includes event-based programs, websites and social media that will foster peer-to-peer opportunities to share information, lessons learned and tips on how to recognize, prevent and manage concussions and reduce the stigma associated with reporting brain injuries or asking for help with health issues.”
General Raymond Odierno, Army Chief of Staff, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the news last Thursday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as part of a panel discussion that included former NFL players and soldiers, as well as medical professionals.
BleacherReport.com did a very comprehensive story about that panel, with comments from veteran NFL players such as Bart Oates as well as soldiers who admitted going back into combat after “being blown up,” or being exposed to a bomb blast, and sustaining concussions.
The panel had an audience of nearly 200 West Point Cadets, “underscoring the NFL and Army’s intention to promote healthy behaviors to younger and older generations alike,” both organizations said in their press release. It was the third such discussion between the two groups. Current and former players met this offseason at the Pentagon with soldiers and Marines who have experience with the injury.
In a letter announcing the initiative to soldiers and current and former NFL players, General Odierno and Goodell said:
“Our organizations share common traits: pride and passion, dedication and determination, and an enduring belief in the power of team. On a personal level, there is mutual respect, appreciation and admiration between soldiers and players.
While the execution of our crafts is fundamentally different, these traits make America’s soldiers and NFL players who they are and the best at what they do. With this initiative, we are seeking to integrate the uncompromising devotion to win with a need to address traumatic brain injuries with the necessary care, consideration, and commitment to prevention that these injuries require.”
The joint effort includes:
- New interactive websites, with the NFL launching a website dedicated to this initiative– www.NFL.com/military. As an extension of NFL.com, this site provides service members with both exclusive access to football news and the most up-to-date information on brain injuries. In addition, a new site www.army.mil/tbi will serve as the Army’s first-ever centralized hub of information on TBI for soldiers.
- Event-based forums that will bring players and soldiers together at NFL team facilities and Army bases across the country to share experiences and reinforce the need for care.
- PSAs and social media interactions designed to increase awareness and promote help-seeking behaviors in each organization.
- Development of a peer-to-peer program that matches recently retired NFL players with soldiers transitioning out of the Army.
- Sharing of medical research and information between the NFL and Army.
Odierno and Goodell in their joint press release and during the panel stressed the need for soldiers and players to seek help if they may be suffering from a head injury and also to get medical attention for a teammate or soldier who may need assistance.
“We know that this mission cannot be accomplished alone,” they wrote in the letter. “It is a shared responsibility. A concussion is a brain injury that is not always easily recognizable to the untrained eye. We want to encourage and empower Soldiers and players to take an active role in the education and prevention process. We all have a crucial role in making sure a brain injury is properly identified and treated.
“By coming together in this historic effort, we are combining and strengthening our forces,” the letter concludes. “As we continue to focus our efforts on encouraging safer environments, we will continue to celebrate the spirit of competition and determination that define our two organizations. Working together, we will ensure longer careers and healthier lives. Working together, we all become stronger. And working together, we have the power to make a real difference. We hope you will join us.”
Smart move, gentlemen.