Bears staff on concussion safety: More to learn, play can be made safer

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CHICAGO -- Several members of the Chicago Bears staff met with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Wednesday to tackle the topic of concussions.

The NFL has chosen to embrace the film "Concussion" starring Will Smith, which scheduled to open on Christmas Day. The film focuses on the discovery of "chronic traumatic encepholopothy" or CTE and the league’s response to brain degeneration found in some of its hard hit players.

The subject is alive and well on football fields across America; in youth leagues, at high school and on the college and pro levels.   Just last Friday, 17-year-old Andre Smith from Bogan High School in Chicago was knocked out in the last play of the game. He died the next morning.

The NFL aware that parents are talking and they say the movie opening gives them an opportunity to talk too.

The league says it wants to educate the public about the decline of concussions in the NFL.  Jeff Millerof NFL Health and Safety says they are  down 34% between 2012-2014. On the non-pro level, 150,00 coaches across the country have been certified in proper tackling techniques, equipment fitting and  heat and hydration.

They say what happens at the youth level concerns them.  And what happens to players, like former Bears’ center Mike Pyle and starting safety Dave Duerson matters too. Duerson shot himself in 2011. Both men were diagnosed with CTE, brain degeneration.

“Anytime you have a situation like Dave Duerson's …  it strikes at your heart,” Bears Chairman George McCaskey said.  "It points to what I think is the need for our calling to do everything we can in this area and to make the game at our level as safe as possible."

Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, NorthShore University HealthSystem and Bears independent neurological consultant, says there is a lot of misinformation out there about concussions, CTE and whether parents should let their kids play the sport.

"Kids are still not reporting concussions,” Pieroth said. “(It’s) a significant concern for me and others who are doing our work."

All of them agree that football, a contact sport,  while not a safe one, can be made safer at all levels of play.

Looking forward, the NFL says it is doing its part to protect its players, getting them help when needed and educating players on all playing levels.

But what can parents do to get the best information on this somewhat invisible injury? Pieroth says go to the CDC website for the best guidance. Pieroth says it is unbiased and "spot on.”

You can find that here: CDC.gov.

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