Many more concussions are being reported in the NFL this season, which the league considers evidence that players and teams are taking head injuries more seriously.
According to NFL data obtained by The Associated Press, 154 concussions that happened in practices or games were reported from the start of the preseason through the eighth week of the 2010 regular season.
That is an increase of 21 percent over the 127 concussions through the eighth week of the 2009 season, and a 34 percent jump from the 115 reported over the same span in 2008.
Dr. Hunt Batjer of Northwestern University, co-chairman of the NFL's head, neck and spine medical committee, called the numbers "a great sign."
"Based on the opinions of the trainers and the team physicians and everyone we communicate with, it appears to be a cultural change," Batjer said in an interview with the AP.
"We're trying to make sure that players have the message: Playing through pain is good; playing through pain is what sports are about. But that's leg pain. That's arm pain. Not brain injury," Batjer said. "Because a brain injury and spine injury can threaten their future."
Concussions continue to be a hot-button issue for the league and its players. Batjer's committee met for two days in New York last week to gather information about improving player safety and consider steps to take moving forward; the union's traumatic brain injury committee is convening Monday and Tuesday in Washington.
And every week, it seems, key players miss time because of head injuries. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller, for example, sat out Sunday with concussions, while Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers left in the first half of Green Bay's 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Rodgers was slow getting up after being hit by two Lions at the end of a scramble. After Green Bay took a timeout, Rodgers was sacked on the next play. He stayed in for the rest of the drive but then exited.
"He was a little groggy after those two plays, and the medical staff and Aaron decided it was in his best interest not to go back in," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
The NFL has been working to get across Batjer's point about thinking of head injuries differently from other health problems, hoping that players will not only be more vigilant about reporting their own symptoms but also about keeping an eye out for teammates who might have a concussion.
Thirty of 160 NFL players surveyed by the AP in November 2009 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion.
"That's one good thing (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and the NFL have been doing: The message is that if there's something wrong with a guy, especially a head injury, you don't want to rush a guy back or make a little mistake that could mess him up, possibly for life," New York Jets safety Brodney Pool said.
"I think they've been doing a good job of getting things under control and making it harder for guys to get out there," Pool said. "I mean, this is the guys' passion, and you want to go out there. You can say, 'Nah, nothing's wrong with me,' but deep down inside, you know something's wrong."
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, who got a concussion in a game last month, has seen a change in the way head injuries are handled.
"It's more of an active approach from the trainers and the league of the stuff you have to go through after you're diagnosed with a concussion. It's not like, 'He's a little woozy in the game; we're going to see how he feels,'" Trufant said. "If you're woozy or if they see any symptoms of concussion, you have to come out and go through all these tests before you can get back on the field."
In December 2009, the NFL set up new rules for checking players on the sideline during a game to determine whether they have a concussion or can get back on the field. Last week, Batjer's committee discussed adopting a league-wide exam so each team would perform the same tests on a player who might have a head injury.
"A couple of team doctors mentioned to me that players in the past would have gone back in had it not been for our return-to-play guidelines. That's a positive thing," Goodell said. "But one of the things we've got to do is make sure there's an awareness out there, so that when a player gets an injury, they report the injury to our medical professionals so they can be evaluated and those determinations can be made from a medical standpoint."
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, N.J., Larry Lage in Detroit, and Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.