NEWS
10/23/2015 13:29 EDT | Updated 10/23/2016 01:12 EDT

CFL joining NHL, NCAA and others at NFL concussion symposium

The CFL is joining the NHL, NCAA and other top sports organizations in London on Saturday to discuss head injuries at the NFL's second annual professional sports concussion conference.

The symposium attracts medical experts as well as officials from various sports, including football, hockey, soccer, rugby, equestrian and track and field, to examine the diagnosis and treatment of concussions.

Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice-president of health and safety policy, said the goal of the gathering is to educate and collaborate.

"The idea is the more minds you have working against these subjects the better the results will be," Miller said. "One goal is to share protocol as it relates to head injuries and concussions and best practices so each league is informed of what others are doing and, where appropriate, to apply it to their games."

Dhiren Naidu, the team doctor for both the Edmonton Eskimos and Oilers, will attend the conference along with Kevin McDonald, the CFL's vice-president of football operations.

"I think you always learn something from what people are doing and they probably learn from you," said Naidu. "But collectively we can get together and say, 'OK, what are the priorities right now to keep people active in sport and keep our professional or elite athletes healthy now and for the long-term."

McDonald added: "For us to be able to sit in this environment and learn, share and understand what others are doing allows us to continue doing what's in the best interests of our players' health and safety."

The CFL and NFL have already been working together on concussion prevention. This season, the CFL has been trying out a sideline examination known as the King-Devick test to see if it can help determine whether a player is healthy enough to return to the field. The NFL has helped fund the pilot project.

Both leagues have had legal issues over concussions. The CFL is facing a $200-million lawsuit filed in May by two former players, who are seeking class-action status on behalf of all retired players going back to 1952. In April, a U.S. judge approved a settlement involving the NFL, which had long been accused of hiding the cumulative effects of concussions. The agreement involves thousands of concussion lawsuits.

As of last month, the CFL's concussion numbers were roughly even with last year's figures, according to Naidu, but he couldn't provide specifics. There have been no repeat concussions so far in 2015, according to Naidu.

Concussion awareness and education have resulted in major advances in football equipment - most notably helmets - as well as rule changes to make the game safer. Miller said the NFL has made 39 rule changes and added independent athletic trainers at every game who can stop play immediately if they feel a player requires medical attention.

Miller said concussions in NFL games were down 34 per cent from 2012 to 2014.

"But that's not success . . . there's still work to do so we'll continue to focus on this," he said.

Naidu said it's unlikely concussions will ever be eliminated from contact sports but the earlier they're detected and treated the better the outlook for athletes.

"Our job as medical professionals is to educate people on what to look for or what you may feel if you have a concussion, then remove yourself from being hit again and be properly assessed," he said.

The conference is being held as part of the NFL's international series. The Buffalo Bills face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press