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Nearly three-quarters of the players who told the AP they think safety can improve _ 13 of 18 _ suggested equipment can be improved, too. Helmet technology, mouth guards and chin straps all were mentioned.

Two players suggested more education about concussions is needed.

Dr. Robert Cantu, a senior adviser to Ellenbogen’s NFL committee who said he is consulted regularly by the league, insisted that while there has been progress, there is still work to be done.

“Has there been a culture change overall? I think the answer is, unquestionably, `yes.’ Could there be more done? Yes. Do all the players get it? No. Do they want to get it? No,” said Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine.

CTE is a degenerative disease increasingly found in football players and other athletes who have absorbed repeated blows to the head. It has been linked to memory loss, disorientation, poor decision-making, and depression that can lead to drug use and, as in the case of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, even suicide.

The league distributed informational posters in 2010 to warn about the dangers of head injuries, but Cantu said: “Just because the posters are in every locker room, it’s not mandatory reading. Or people can say they read it but not really have read it.”

“More stress needs to be placed _ and I believe this is the players association’s responsibility as much as it is the NFL’s _ on the dangers of playing symptomatic with a concussion and more knowledge needs to be imparted on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which obviously does exist in the NFL. … All of those sub-concussive blows count, and you need to minimize the amount of brain trauma that you take,” Cantu said.

Union spokesman George Atallah declined a request for comment about concussions.

Little-discussed until reporting by The New York Times led to an October 2009 congressional hearing on concussions in the NFL, head injuries are now part of the daily conversation about professional football. On Saturday alone, two starting quarterbacks, Cleveland’s Colt McCoy and Arizona’s Kevin Kolb, sat out because of head injuries, while a third, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, left his team’s game with what his coach called “concussionlike symptoms.”

According to data from STATS LLC, from 2000-09, an average of 3.1 NFL players _ and never more than nine in an entire season _ went on injured reserve because of a concussion or head injury. That number rose to 18 last season, and stood at 17 through Week 15 this season.

Similarly, STATS LLC said, over that same 10-year span at the start of the century, an average of 26 NFL players each season were listed on the weekly injury report and missed games because of a concussion or head injury. That number rose to 89 in 2010, and stood at 75 this season through Saturday’s games.

At least eight lawsuits have been filed against the NFL in recent months _ including three within the last week _ by dozens of former players who say they have medical problems related to brain injuries from their time in professional football. The NFL’s stance, in part, is that players knew there were risks of injury, and there was no misconduct or liability on the league’s part.

“It’s a physical sport. Guys are going to get hit in the head. When we’re young, when we start playing this sport, we know what we’re getting into,” Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek said. “It’s not like, `Oh, I’m going to play this because my head’s going to be fine when I’m done playing.’ It’s a risk you take playing this game, but I think the league is doing everything in their power to make it as safe as possible.”

The NFL certainly has found itself adjusting on the fly.

One example: After San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Kris Dielman got a concussion but stayed in the lineup in October, then had a seizure on a team flight, the NFL said it would give game officials “concussion awareness training” so they could keep an eye out for players.

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