NFL Player Safety: From the Front Lines
Veteran NFL Pro Bowler and Multi-Specialty HealthCare’s Bruce Laird Talks Injuries, Concussions, and More
Despite the advancements made in professional football player safety with better equipment, player education and awareness, NFL players suffered 77 concussions throughout this past season. Bruce Laird, former National Football League (NFL) Pro Bowl defensive back and currently senior marketing executive for Multi-Specialty HealthCare, has both personal and professional experience with injury prevention and healthcare for former players. Over the course of Laird’s 12 year NFL career, he started in 127 games and played in a total of 164 games. Knowing what we do today, would he have played the same way?
“Yes,” confirms Laird, “ I would have played the same way– all out, hard-hitting and smart football. What I would have changed is if I was hurt physically I would not have taken the injections, pain killers and played each game really hurt. The reason is that there is always a price you have to pay down the road; the years of that physical abuse catch up with you. I will need neck and shoulder surgery very soon.”
“The head injuries were the biggest aspect that pre-1993 players had NO idea about. We had no neurologists on staff of NFL teams; all head injuries were looked at by a team physician.”
Laird, who has spent the last seven years working closely with the NFL in the areas of injury prevention and post-retirement healthcare for former players, contends, “Incorrect tackling is prevalent in the NFL. When I was playing, players were tackling the right way. Now players are trying to spear each other; they tackle like they are missiles.” He added that it is this incorrect tackling that leads to many of the contact injuries and future health problems after retirement.
Laird serves as the president and chairman of Fourth and Goal (http://fourthandgoalunites.com/), also known as Baltimore Football Club Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a better quality of life for former NFL players and their families. Prior to 1993, NFL players did not have healthcare benefits. In a sport in which post-retirement health issues are notoriously frequent, it is hard to believe that a lack of benefits was the reality up until just 20 years ago. Advocacy organizations like Fourth and Goal that help retired players have been pivotal in ensuring steps are taken in raising awareness for player safety and retired players’ healthcare. Since its conception in 2005, of which Laird was an integral part, Fourth and Goal has raised more than $800,000 and has distributed more than $300,000 of that to former players.
Concludes Laird, “Football is a violent sport; you must know you can get hurt and you take that risk of physical injuries. But if you are multi-concussed, it is now proven that you are 37 % more likely to suffer from early depression, diminished brain function, dementia, and wrongful death. That information was never shared with pre-1993 NFL players, leading to allegations against the League of conspiracy and fraudulent concealment of head injuries.”