01:04 PM CDT on Sunday, August 1, 2010

By BRANDON GEORGE / The Dallas Morning News
[email protected]

National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, one of the most powerful men in professional sports, has made the issue of concussions a priority.

That push has led to growing education and awareness at the college and high school levels, concussion experts say.

“Since the NFL has had the problems they’ve had, it’s been talked about more and been brought to the forefront,” said Tamara C. Valovich McLeod, a leading national concussion expert who is an associate professor for the athletic training program at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz.

Last week, the NFL announced it would distribute a poster for all teams that lays out concussion dangers in stark terms. The poster, which must be displayed in locker rooms all season, will also become a brochure that will be given to all players.

In addition to listing the symptoms of concussions, the poster warns that repeated concussions “can change your life and your family’s life forever.”

An NFL-sponsored study found that NFL retirees were reporting rates of Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases at five times or more the national rate.

The poster is another step in the league’s toughened stance on concussions.

For years, the NFL didn’t acknowledge medical experts’ findings that concussions can lead to long-term health issues. But last year, the league advised that players who suffer a concussion should not return to play or practice on the same day if they show any symptoms of a concussion.

“For many years, the culture had been quite different, that concussions weren’t serious injuries,” Goodell told The Associated Press in early February. “I think we have changed that culture and made sure that people understand they are serious, and they can have serious consequences if they’re not treated properly.”

Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ chief operating officer and director of player personnel, serves on the NFL competition committee that established the new concussion policy.

“Anytime you see something escalate and you see a situation … something that needs to be addressed, it’s first and foremost,” Jones said. “Player safety, as far as the competition committee is concerned, is paramount.”

Jones said the league is concerned about players keeping quiet about possible concussions and continuing to play.

“That’s the last thing we would want them to do,” Jones said. “We’ve certainly heard of people doing that.”

The growing awareness of concussion dangers has led to the “Zackery Lystedt Law” in Washington state. The law is named after a 13-year-old football player who suffered a brain hemorrhage upon returning to a game after a blow to his head. He now must use a wheelchair.

The law features the nation’s most stringent return-to-play protocols. It says an athlete younger than 18 must be removed from a game or practice immediately if suspected of having suffered a concussion. The athlete is not allowed to return to play until receiving written medical clearance from a licensed health care provider who specializes in the treatment of concussions.

While other states have adopted similar laws, Texas has not.

“I think it’s great that we’re seeing this trend,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina. “I think it is close to 30 or 35 states now that have either legislation or pending legislation about management of concussions in youth sports. I think it won’t be long now that we’ll see some sort of legislation in all 50 states.”

Last February, the Zackery Lystedt Brain Project was launched in Miami at the Super Bowl in an effort to spread the Lystedt Law to all 50 states. Goodell sent a letter in May to 44 governors urging them to pass legislation.

Staff writer Gerry Fraley contributed to this report.