NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL will be hiring a full-time chief medical officer to work with team medical staffs, the players' union and league committees.
In a letter sent to the 32 team presidents and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the chief medical officer also would work with "the broader independent scientific and medical communities."
The new hire will replace Dr. Eliot Pellman, who is retiring after 30 years in the league, and will have expanded duties.
Pellman mostly played an administrative role that included communication with NFL clubs regarding health and safety protocols. Pellman was not a member of any league medical committee. But much of the early criticism of the NFL regarding its handling of concussions was directed at Pellman, who once famously downplayed links between head trauma and football.
Pellman is a rheumatologist with little expertise in head and brain trauma research, but he was involved in the formulation of the NFL's concussion policies.
Goodell also told the teams that the NFL must demonstrate strong leadership on health and safety "and that our players and fans need to trust in us."
"In recognition of this priority (on player health and safety) and the increasing complexity of our work, we intend to hire a highly credentialed physician to serve as Chief Medical Officer and work in the league office on a full-time basis," Goodell wrote.
A search will begin this week and will be conducted by a panel of health and medical experts led by Dr. Betsy Nabel, the league's chief health and medical adviser.
Others on the search panel will include Dr. Rob Heyer, president of the NFL Physicians Society and team internist for the Carolina Panthers; Ronnie Barnes, senior vice president and head trainer for the New York Giants; Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston University;, and Peter Foss, of G.E. Healthcare. The panel will work closely with the league's Jeff Miller.
Nabel was hired in February 2015, but she also serves as president of Brigham and Women's Health Care.
While the NFL has been heavily criticized in its handling of head trauma over the decades — it reached a settlement that will pay about $1 billion over 65 years to more than 20,000 retired players — Goodell has tried to emphasize the progress made in several health and safety areas. Those include 42 rules changes to protect players; millions of dollars spent in medical research; and more mandatory protective equipment.
During games, team sidelines have at least 27 medical professionals, including some independent observers such as neurologists. There are strict guidelines and protocols for concussions and head injuries.
Clearly, though, Goodell felt the need for someone new at the top of the league's medical hierarchy who will have a broader role while working solely for the NFL.
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