Roger Goodell: NFL pledging $100 million to player safety

The NFL is pledging $100 million to player safety as concerns about concussions shadow the game.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter announcing the funding and outlining a new initiative called "Play Safe, Play Smart" on the program's website.

Goodell wrote that the goal of the initiative is "to drive progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries, enhance medical protocols and further improve the way the game is taught and played by all who love it."

The NFL has a troubled history around the topic of brain research and concussions.

For nearly two decades, the league ran a series of scientific experiments, formed its own research arm and published 16 papers about football and head injuries. The central conclusion -- that NFL players don't get brain damage -- led to public criticism, Congressional hearings and, in 2009, the abandonment of the project.

More recently, in May, congressional investigators concluded that at least a half-dozen top NFL health officials waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign last year to influence a major U.S. government research study on football and brain disease.

The 91-page congressional report described how the NFL pressured the National Institutes of Health to strip a $16 million project from a prominent Boston University researcher and tried to redirect the money to members of the league's committee on brain injuries. The study was to have been funded out of a $30 million "unrestricted gift" the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.

After the NIH rebuffed the NFL's campaign to remove Robert Stern, an expert in neurodegenerative disease who has criticized the league, the NFL backed out of a signed agreement to pay for the study, the report shows. Taxpayers ended up bearing the cost instead.

The NFL's actions violated policies that prohibit private donors from interfering in the NIH peer-review process, the report concludes, and were part of a "long-standing pattern of attempts" by the league to shape concussion research for its own purposes.

In the letter posted Wednesday, the commissioner said that the league "can and will do better" in this area and acknowledged that some might think the league's motives are not pure.

"We know there is skepticism about our work in this area," he wrote. "That's why both the process and the results of our work will be shared with the medical community and the public at large."

The program will have "four pillars," according to the website: protecting players, advanced technology, medical research and sharing progress.

The league will "take a hard look at any aspect of the rules that can make the game safer for our players," Goodell wrote. But the letter also says that $60 million of the total funding will go toward exploring technological solutions to player safety. That could include new helmets.

"Another of our goals is to explore the concept of position-specific helmets," Goodell wrote. "After all, we know from tracking game and injury data that linemen experience different impacts than a wide receiver or a defensive back. Yet their protective equipment is the same."

Goodell wrote that more than $40 million will be allotted to medical research.

"The goal is to pursue scientific research to examine the long-term effects of concussion, the incidence and prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and what can be done to improve long-term player health," Goodell wrote.

As professional athletes question whether they would allow their own kids to play football, Goodell wrote that the new program plans to share information with sports families.

"Our goal will be to equip parents with the best available information to make decisions about their children's participation in football and other contact sports," he wrote, adding that the league will expand its athletic trainer program.

Talk of head injuries has become a major topic in the NFL. The NFL and NFLPA said that they will look into hits that league MVP Cam Newton took this weekend to see if correct protocols were followed.

All of the talk takes leads to the question of whether the risk of playing football is worth the reward. Goodell thinks it is.

"Long ago, before I was NFL Commissioner, I was a high school football player," he wrote. "I played safety for the Bronxville High School Broncos. Those were among the happiest days of my life.

"The values I gained from that experience -- grit, commitment to team, hard work and how to conduct oneself in both victory and defeat -- are values I've applied throughout my adult life."