It has made a splashy commitment to brain research, with a $30 million gift to the National Institutes of Health and another $100 million pledged in concert with the NFL Players Association. Also, the sidelines Kyle stands on will have access to new technologies aggressively enlisted for player protection, including iPads for medical staffs. Instead of salad bowls for helmets, the league is testing helmets and shoulder pads with "accelerometers," sensors that can measure the impact of a hit.
In short, the league Kyle Long is entering will have better medicine, better rules, better technology. "Better awareness," Howie says. "The league has done some great things in terms of — as best you can within a game of inherent dangers — making the game as safe as possible."
But Kyle Long's version of the NFL is not completely free of the past.
Even as league executives promise to safeguard the health of the next generation, they are disputing the problems of previous ones. Sanchez does not believe the NFL has addressed its issues voluntarily or wholeheartedly. "I wouldn't say the NFL has turned over a new leaf and is completely embracing responsibility for this," the congresswoman said.
In January the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health wrote a fact sheet for former NFL players notifying them that they were at increased risk of brain and nervous system disorders. A NIOSH memo obtained by The Washington Post shows that someone from the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee tried to persuade the government agency to remove a reference to chronic traumatic encephalothapthy, a degenerative disease similar to Alzheimer's that researchers at Boston University have found present in 34 of 35 deceased NFL players whose brains were donated for study. In the memo, the NFL representative objected to the use of the term CTE because it would "give it an epidemiological validity that doesn't yet exist." NIOSH declined to alter the fact sheet.