November 23rd, 2011
04:52 PM ET
Injuries are prompting the National Football League to change the way it monitors play during games.
Beginning with Thursday's games, the league observer in the press box at each stadium will be trying to spot possible player injuries, including concussions, that might be missed at field level. In a memo sent to all of the NFL teams, the league said the decision was made "to enhance the NFL's ability to identify an on-field injury as soon as possible."
The NFL says league observers have been present at its games for decades but have been primarily tasked with following the officiating of the game. Now phone lines from the observer to each team's bench will be installed, allowing the observer direct access to a team's physicians and training staff.
"We would welcome all the additional input we could get," says Dr. Joseph Maroon, Team Neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "It's all about player safety and protection."
Maroon believes this latest decision is evidence that the NFL is taking the issue of injuries, including concussions, seriously.
"They're continually looking at how to improve things further," he says.
In February, the NFL announced a standardized neurological exam for all NFL players that would help team physicians, like Maroon, identify concussions on the field and keep injured players out of the game.
LaMar Campbell, a former safety with the Detroit Lions, says the decision regarding league observers is groundbreaking.
"This will trickle down to the colleges and universities and most importantly the high schools where players are taught about gamesmanship, ethics, etc. Now that they are seeing the NFL is setting a precedent for player safety, this will become more of a rule than just a bullet point in when it comes to playing the game safely."
Concussions sustained while playing sports, particularly football, have become a hot topic around the country. As more science emerges about the dangers of concussions and a phenomenon known as "second impact syndrome," sports leagues along different age levels are modify policies to protect athletes.
Programming note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been following the 2011 season of a North Carolina high school football team. In 2008, a player on the team died after sustaining a head injury during a game. For a closer look at the health and safety issues on the playing field, watch "Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Big Hits, Broken Dreams," premiering January 29, 2012 at 8pm ET.
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