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July 22, 2013

NFL injury risk has Hall-of-Fame dad concerned for rookie son

(Continued)

If there is one thing that reassures the Longs, it's the sunlight factor: A combination of congressional interest and pressure from lawyers in the concussion litigation means the NFL is operating under a level of scrutiny it never previously experienced. "The elephant in the room is talked about now," Diane says.

In 2009, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faced a scathing House Judiciary Committee hearing in which Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., described the league as intransigent on concussions and safety issues and compared it to tobacco companies that insisted there were no ill-health effects from smoking. The accusation galvanized the NFL into major reforms.

In a speech to the Harvard School of Public Health last fall, Goodell described a "relentless focus" on player safety and enumerated measures by the league "to take the head out of the game." The NFL Kyle will play in has new practice rules, issued in 2011, aimed at reducing the impacts and wear and tear on players. The Bears will be allowed to put Kyle through only one fully padded practice per week. The two-a-days that tortured his father have been abolished. Also, Kyle will play an on-field game with vastly different rules than his father played under. Two years ago the kickoff line was moved five yards forward to reduce high-speed collisions, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in concussions on kickoffs, according to the league's figures. This fall, a new rule will forbid running backs and tacklers from lowering their heads and using the crowns of their helmets.

Many former players have expressed concerns that the new measures might water down a physical game, and it remains to be seen whether the NFL's culture and practices can really be altered.

The NFL Kyle enters has placated Congress by spearheading a lobby effort that resulted in 48 states and the District of Columbia passing laws ensuring youth football players are cleared by a licensed health care expert before returning to play. It also has launched the Heads Up program, a partnership with youth organizations to teach safer tackling, which Howie and Diane Long have signed on to.

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