- Associated Press - Monday, December 13, 2010

With a late-season game on the line, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers exits with a concussion and doesn’t return. Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson sit out games altogether because of head injuries.

And those are only a few examples from this Sunday. If it seems as though more and more NFL players are missing time because of concussions, it’s because they are: According to league data obtained by The Associated Press, the number of concussions being reported this season is up more than 20 percent from 2009, and more than 30 percent from 2008.

The NFL considers that proof that players and teams are taking head injuries more seriously and being more open about them. The players themselves agree.

“A lot of it is changing the culture. Guys are more open to reporting them, and they know more about the effects and how dangerous they can be in the long term,” said Oakland Raiders tight end Zach Miller, who got two concussions last season. “Guys are making smarter decisions.”

The NFL’s data shows 154 concussions _ from practices or games _ were reported from the start of the preseason through the eighth week of the 2010 regular season. That’s 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.

Every week, key players are sitting out.

Rodgers was slow getting up after being hit by two Lions at the end of a scramble in the first half of Green Bay’s 7-3 loss at the Detroit Lions. 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.

“The bigger emphasis on it has helped,” Oakland’s Miller said. “There was information out there, but not as much as we have now, and not as much as guys talking about it. Trainers are looking for it. You see a guy get up woozy and you know something is wrong with him. Guys aren’t trying to hide it as much.”

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.

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