By Kevin Johnson and John GallagherThe Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) The National Football League has agreed to fund an experiment to try to diagnose and treat concussions in athletes who played more than a decade.
The league is now working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct the first-ever nationwide study of brain injury in athletes in the NFL.
The project is expected to be complete by late summer.
The NFL and the U:VA are jointly developing a concussion assessment and management program that would begin as early as this summer.
The program would take a holistic approach to the symptoms and severity of concussions, including how the brain responds to them, what the brain can tell doctors about the player’s past performance and the likelihood of future symptoms.
The goal is to have all the concussion patients in the league fully diagnosed by summer 2018, when the league expects to have 1,200 patients in its concussion program.
The program will involve testing of brain samples from more than 300 players, coaches and employees.
The goal is for the first step to be completed in late summer, with the first patients in early 2019, and the program expected to run until 2021.
The concussion program would be funded through a $200 million federal concussion trust fund that also would pay for medical treatment for athletes and their families.
The fund would be used to pay for training and development for the team physicians who would be involved in treating concussions and to support other research, the NFL said.
The plan also includes funding to fund more testing, to help doctors better diagnose players and improve the diagnosis and treatment of players.
The players who will participate in the program would have to sign confidentiality agreements and agree to be tested, the league said.
It will take time to complete, but by the end of the program, the data will be in the public domain and researchers will have the ability to study how the players’ brains respond to different types of brain injuries.
The league hopes to have some baseline data to study the extent of concussed players’ problems in the future, the team said.
“It will be an amazing opportunity for the NFL to have a unique, comprehensive study that is focused on how we can reduce the number of concussive brain injuries in the game,” said Tom Benson, who served as NFL Commissioner from 2002-11.
“We’re excited to see how the data is coming together and how it’s going to help us get there.”
In the meantime, Benson said, the study will be “a first step in the process of getting this program underway.”
The study will also be part of a larger effort to determine the impact of concussion on the players, teams and fans.
The NFL has long been working to make its concussion policy more rigorous, Benson added.
“We’re committed to the concussion program because we know how important it is to reduce concussions,” he said.
“This program is a first step toward the next generation of players.”
The league has faced criticism for the lack of research on the effects of concursive brain injury.
A 2011 study found that of the 1,700 former NFL players with a diagnosis of concussion, fewer than 20 percent received help with the symptoms.
The researchers said it is too soon to know if this is a long-term trend or a temporary dip in the number.
“I think we need to have the data, but we need it sooner rather than later,” Benson said.
While the NFL and VA are working to ensure the study is safe, Benson noted that the NFL will also need to be careful about what data it sends to other federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There’s no way we’re going to do that without a certain level of oversight,” Benson added, referring to the VA.
“I know we need this, and I’m sure that we will.”___For more AP sports: www.ap.org and www.twitter.com/APSports