Michael Haynes

One of the top champions for the health, safety and well-being of football players is former National Football League Hall of Fame defensive back Michael Haynes.

For his efforts to raise awareness about concussions and to push other measures to make professional football safer, the United States Sports Academy is awarding Haynes a 2011 Distinguished Service Award. DSAs are given annually to those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to national or international sports through instruction, research or service.

Haynes is currently the president of Mike Haynes & Associates, a consulting company he founded that helps companies create a winning culture and make a difference in the community. He also has served the NFL in several capacities, including adviser to Commissioner Roger Goodell, vice president of Player and Employee Relations, vice president of Player Development, and chairman of the NFL Alumni’s Health and Wellness Committee.

Haynes delivered his share of brain-rattling hits during his 14-year NFL career with the Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders but these days concussions are one of his No. 1 issues. He’s an advocate for the King-Devick Test, which has demonstrated that in one-to-two minutes it can accurately diagnose a concussion and remove a player from a game to prevent injury from further brain trauma.

Research shows a link between concussions and brain damage and a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can cause symptoms such as chronic headaches, fatigue, sleep difficulties, sensitivity to light and noise, dizziness and short-term memory loss. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control show that the chance of a 30-49 year old man receiving a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s or another memory related disease is 1 in 1,000 and dramatically increases to 1 in 53 for an NFL retiree who is the same age.

“The King-Devick Test provides doctors, athletic trainers, coaches, and even parents, with an easy tool to determine if the athlete should be removed from play to prevent a second head injury, which we now know can have more serious complications if the brain has not yet healed from the first concussion,” says Haynes, who is an Academy Board of Visitors member.

In addition, Haynes is advocating for pro football fields to be wider to account for the increased size and speed of today’s players. He supports bigger rosters to help encourage coaches and trainers to let players heal longer from injuries. Haynes also wants to see mandates for: properly fitted helmets and other equipment; custom fit mouth-guards that provide mandibular joint protection; objective sideline protocols to determine if a concussion occurred; education of every player, coach, and parent, so they can recognize symptoms of a concussions and know what to do if one occurs; the elimination of devastating hits to the head when a player is in a defenseless position.

“I’m sure several of the protocols being implemented today would have protected guys from sustaining multiple head injuries during their careers in my day,” says Haynes, who is now one of about 20 current and former football players who have agreed to donate their brains to the Boston University School of Medicine for its research on head trauma and brain damage in athletes.

His pro football career began in 1976 when the New England Patriots selected him as the fifth player in the draft. He was the NFL defensive rookie of the year. He was voted to the Pro Bowl nine times in his 14-year-career with New England and the Oakland Raiders. He was a member of the 1983 Oakland team that won the Super Bowl and included Haynes and Lester Hayes forming one of the NFL’s most intimidating cornerback tandems in history. Haynes, who had 46 career interceptions, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.