The NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee is composed of independent and NFL-affiliated medical professionals and focuses on neurological issues relevant to the health and safety of active NFL players.
- Advise the NFL on medical policies, procedures and protocols
- Determine and advise the NFL on best practices
- Identify and recommend medical research that impacts the health and safety of active
- Oversee research when requested by the NFL and its collaborators
- Analyze injury data and propose interventions
- Create and supervise focused research groups with specific goals and assignments (e.g.
- Improve public education and advocate for enhanced sports safety
Areas of Focus
Moderate and Severe Brain Injury
Neck and Spine
- Nicholas Theodore, MD, FACS, FAANS (Chairman)Dr. Nicholas Theodore is the Donlin M. Long Professor of Neurosurgery, Orthopaedics and Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Until June 2016, he was the Volker K. H. Sonntag Endowed Chair and Chief of the Spine Section in the Division of Neurological Surgery at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. During this time he was also the team neurosurgeon for the Arizona Cardinals as well as a consultant to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Coyotes. He graduated from Cornell University, where he was the recipient of a Cornell Tradition Academic Fellowship. He attended medical school at Georgetown University, where he graduated with honors. After completing his internship at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Dr. Theodore served as a Senior General Medical Officer with the United States Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan. Dr. Theodore completed his neurosurgical residency and fellowship in spinal surgery at the Barrow Neurological Institute. After completing his residency in 2001, Dr. Theodore served as Chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at Naval Medical Center San Diego, overseeing the largest neurosurgery complement in the Navy. In 2003 he rejoined the faculty at Barrow Neurological Institute and remained there until he was recruited to become the Director of the Neurosurgical Spine Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is the author of over 200 scientific publications and the recipient of many research awards including the Mayfield and Tasker Awards as well as being awarded a prestigious RO-1 grant by the National Institutes of Health. He was recently awarded a DOD grant for the study of a novel therapy for acute spinal cord injury. Dr. Theodore’s area of focus includes brain and spinal cord injury, minimally invasive surgery, and robotics. In 2014 he sold Excelsius Surgical, a robotics company that he co-founded with Dr. Neil Crawford to Globus Medical. The device received FDA clearance in August 2017 and is now in clinical use. Dr. Theodore is a Diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgery, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery. He has been heavily involved in injury prevention and worked on the development of Barrow Brainbook, a statewide concussion education program in Arizona. In addition, he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors at ThinkFirst, an international injury prevention organization.
- Julian Bailes, MD
- Ronnie Barnes, ATC
- Mitch Berger, MD, FACS, FAANSDr. Mitchel S. Berger is the Berthold and Belle N. Guggenhime Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Director of UCSF’s Brain Tumor Center. Dr. Berger has clinical expertise in treating adult and pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors. He is a pioneer of intraoperative brain mapping — a technique used to avoid functional areas of the brain during surgical resection of a tumor. His work has enabled surgeons to perform more extensive resection of tumor with less chance of producing sensorimotor or language deficit. Dr. Berger is also a leader of translational research and is the Principal Investigator of the UCSF Brain Tumor Research Center’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence in neuro-oncology, funded by the National Cancer Institute. During his distinguished career, Dr. Berger has served as President of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, President of the Society of Neuro-Oncology, President of the North Pacific Society of Neurology, President of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery, and Vice President of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. He has also been a director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Dr. Berger currently serves as a member of the National Football League Head, Neck and Spine Committee, focusing on retired players’ issues and examining the consequences of repetitive head injury and concussion. He is also an active member of numerous professional organizations, including the American Organization for Cancer Research, the American College of Surgeons, and the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies. Most recently he was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel of scientific experts that will help guide the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
- Javier Cárdenas, MDDr. Javier Cárdenas is the director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center, an interdisciplinary clinic that is nationally recognized for comprehensive patient care. Since 2009, the Center has treated thousands of individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury due to sports, accidents, and domestic violence. He is also the director of the Barrow Concussion Network, the most comprehensive statewide concussion education, prevention, and treatment program in the United States. Dr. Cárdenas provides sideline concussion coverage for Arizona State University and the National Football League. He serves on the NFL’s Head, Neck & Spine Committee, the Sport Medical Advisory Committee of the National Federation of High Schools, is chair of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Sport Medical Advisory Committee, and chair of the Arizona Governor's Council on Spinal and Head Injuries. He was awarded Arizona State University's Young Alumni award in 2014, the 2015 American Academy of Neurology Advocate Year, and the 2016 Chicanos por la Causa Cause for a Change award for his work in concussion prevention. Dr. Cárdenas is committed to the care, treatment, and prevention of traumatic brain and spinal cord injury in children and adolescents. Dr. Cárdenas graduated from Arizona State University with highest honors and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education. As a special education teacher, he instructed children with traumatic brain injury and developmental disabilities. For 16 years, he volunteered for Special Olympics in Arizona. His background in special education and long history of volunteerism has guided his career, leading him to the field of child neurology. He graduated from the University of Arizona, College of Medicine with honors in Neurology. He completed a residency in pediatrics at St Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, where he was recognized for his outstanding care of infants and children. Dr. Cárdenas trained in the Department of Child Neurology at Barrow Neurological Institute where he received awards for academic presentations and leadership.
- James Collins, ATC (Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society President)James Collins is Head Athletic Trainer for the Los Angeles Chargers and President of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS). Collins and his staff were selected as the NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year by PFATS in 2009. Born in Lothian, Md., Collins was an aviation physiology technician in the U.S. Navy from 1980-84. He played basketball at Morris Brown College and earned a degree in physical education from San Diego State. Collins was a Chargers intern in 1986 and promoted to assistant athletic trainer in 1987. He also worked as an orthopedic tech and surgical assistant for the OASIS Medical Group. In 1991, Collins was hired as an assistant in Denver and spent five seasons with the Broncos. He later spent a season with the World League’s London Monarchs (’95) and the ’96-98 seasons in Philadelphia before re-joining the Chargers in ’99. Collins is a member of the National Athletic Trainer’s Association and serves on the NFL’s Health and Safety, General Medical and Musculoskeletal Committees. In 2005, he was named to the NATA Hall of Fame selection committee. He was formerly the AFC’s representative for the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. In 2004, Collins was honored as a “Distinguished Alumnus” by San Diego State’s Exercise and Nutritional Sciences Department. In 2012, Collins helped coordinate the opening of the San Diego Chargers Courage House at Casa de Amparo, a safe-house for abused kids. In 2013, he was selected to the executive board at Casa de Amparo as a liaison to the Chargers.
- Rob Heyer, MD (NFL Physicians Society President)Dr. Robert A. Heyer is President of the NFL Physicians Society (NFLPS). Since 1994, Dr. Heyer has served as a team internist for the Carolina Panthers. He has over 35 years of experience and practices in Internal Medicine and Pulmonary Disease. He graduated from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas in 1973. Dr. Heyer is a clinical professor for the Department of Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He joined the faculty at Carolinas Medical Center in 2002 and is a member of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division. Between 1991-96, Dr. Heyer was the Medical Director of Respiratory Therapy at the Carolinas Medical Center. He was also Chief of the Pulmonary Section at the medical center between 1991-93. His awards include the Charlotte Country Day School, Honorary Alumnus Award 1998 and the Outstanding Volunteer Award from the American Lung Association of North Carolina. Dr. Heyer is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha. He is also a member of the NFL Cardiovascular Health Research Committee. Other Professional services include former President of the North Carolina Thoracic Society between 1989-90, member of the American Thoracic Society, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians and American Association of Medical Directors of Respiratory Care.
- Wellington Hsu, MD
- Russell Lonser, MDDr. Russell Lonser is professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University. He earned his MD from Loma Linda University and received his neurosurgical training at the University of Utah. During his residency, he completed a research fellowship in the Surgical Neurology Branch at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Upon completion of his residency, he joined the staff of the Surgical Neurology Branch at the NIH. He became chief of the Surgical Neurology Branch in 2007 where he started the NIH Neurological Surgery Residency Training Program, before moving to Ohio State University in 2012. Dr. Lonser’s research interests include the development of drug delivery paradigms for the central nervous system pathology, as well as investigation of tumor pathogenesis and biology. His clinical and surgical interests are centered on the treatment of brain, skull base, and spinal cord tumors. He is an author on over 250 scientific and clinical publications. He received the Young Investigator Award in 2001 and Mahaley Clinical Research Award in 2013 from the Joint Section on Tumors. He is co-inventor on a patent for imaging delivery of therapeutic agents in the nervous system. He has served the Congress of Neurological Surgeons as a member-at-large of the Executive Committee, scientific meeting chair, Annual Meeting chair, and treasurer. He also served on the Executive Committee for the Joint Section on Tumors. He has been actively involved in the mentoring and training of over 40 neurosurgical fellows. He is on the editorial boards for Neurosurgery, World Neurosurgery and Journal of Neurosurgery. He is an Academic Editor for PLoS One and Science Reports and is consulting editor for Neurosurgery Clinics of North America.
- Elizabeth Pieroth, PsyD
- Margot Putukian, MD, FACSMDr. Margot Putukian is the Director of Athletic Medicine, Head Team Physician and Assistant Director of Medical Services at Princeton University. Dr. Putukian is a past president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), and a Team Physician for US Soccer as well as for the US Men's Lacrosse Team. She received her undergraduate degree from Yale University, and her Medical Degree from Boston University, completed her residency in Primary Care Internal Medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester NY before completing a fellowship in Sports Medicine at Michigan State University. Dr. Putukian is board certified in Internal Medicine and Sports Medicine. Dr. Putukian has been a co-author on several journal articles, including the NATA & AMSSM Position Statements on Concussion, and the Zurich International Concussion Conference documents. She is a primary author for several Team Physician Consensus Statements covering a variety of team physician issues. Dr. Putukian chairs the Clinical Sports Medicine Leadership committee for the American College of Sports Medicine, and is a recipient of the ACSM Citation Award. She is the primary care medical consultant for Major League Soccer, and chairs the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee. She also serves on several medical advisory committees, including US Soccer, USA Football, and the NFL’s Head Neck and Spine Committee.
- Thom Mayer, MD, FACEP, FAAPDr. Thom Mayer is the Medical Director of the NFL Players Association, a position he assumed at the request of Gene Upshaw on the day Korey Stringer, a tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, passed away from heat stroke. The NFLPA had never before had a Medical Director. Under the leadership of current NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, Dr. Mayer and his team pioneered a new era in assuring that the health and safety of NFL athletes are protected. Heat illness, traumatic brain injuries, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal injuries, and strength training are all now subject to strict guidelines. In this critical role for the NFLPA, he has become one of the most trusted and widely-respected physicians in sports medicine. He is also recognized as an expert in emergency medicine, pediatric emergency medicine, trauma and healthcare leadership. With regard to sports medicine, leadership development, service excellence and patient flow, he is the most respected and widely known emergency physician in the nation. Dr. Mayer has published over 90 articles, 100 book chapters, and has edited 15 textbooks. He has spoken at over 200 national and international conferences on sports medicine and emergency medicine. On September 11, 2001 Dr. Mayer served as one of the Command Physicians at the Pentagon Rescue Operation, coordinating medical assets at the site. The BestPractices physicians at Inova Fairfax Hospital were the first to successfully diagnose and treat inhalational anthrax victims during the fall 2001 anthrax crises, and Dr. Mayer has served the Department of Defense on Defense Science Board Task Forces on Bioterrorism, Homeland Security, and consequences of Weapons of Mass Destruction. His expertise and insights in crisis management are thus informed by hard-won experience. Dr. Mayer’s academic appointments are as Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at the George Washington and Senior Lecturing Fellow, Duke University School of Medicine.
Consultants to the Head, Neck and Spine Committee
- Robert Cantu, MDDr. Robert Cantu is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Clinical Diagnostics and Therapeutics Leader AD and CTE Center, at the Boston University School of Medicine, and Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research, Dr. Robert C. Cantu Concussion Center, Emerson Hospital. He has authored over 400 scientific publications, including 32 books on neurology and sports medicine, in addition to numerous book chapters, peer-reviewed papers, abstracts and free communications, and educational videos. He is section editor for World Neurosurgery and he has served as associate editor of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Science Review, and on the editorial board of The Physician and Sports Medicine, Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, and Journal of Athletic Training. Dr. Cantu serves as Senior Advisor to the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee; Section Co-Chair Mackey-White National Football League Players Association Traumatic Brain Injury Committee; Founder and Medical Director Concussion Legacy Foundation (previously SLI); International Rugby Board Concussion Advisory Group; Adjunct Professor Exercise and Sport Science and Medical Director National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC; Co-Director, Neurologic Sports Injury Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston; Senior Advisor Brain Injury Center and Adjunct Staff, Children’s Hospital, Boston; Vice President Chair Scientific Advisory Committee National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE); Chief of Neurosurgery Service, Associate Chairman Department of Surgery, and Director of Sports Medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts. He also consults with numerous NFL, NHL and NBA teams.
- Joseph Maroon, MD, FACSDr. Joseph C. Maroon is Professor and Vice Chairman, Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience at the Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He is a board certified clinical professor of neurosurgery. His clinical and research interests have been in the development of minimally invasive surgical procedures for the brain and spine, the prevention and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and complimentary approaches to inflammatory diseases associated with aging. He co-developed ImPACT™, the first neurocognitive computerized system used to asses concussion severity and assist with timing for return to contact sports. It is the only FDA approved test for concussion evaluation (2016). Dr. Maroon has been the neurosurgical consultant for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 34 years. He has been a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee since 2007. Dr. Maroon is past- president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Honored as one of America’s Best Neurosurgeons annually, he has published five books, has written over 280 peer-reviewed papers and 54 book chapters. Despite his busy professional schedule he has competed in over 80 triathlon events. These include 8 ironman distance triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) in Hawaii (1993, 2003, 2008, 2010 and 2013), Canada (1995), New Zealand (1997) and Europe (2000). In 2016 he was ranked 4th in his age group nationally. He was inducted into the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame, with Joe Montana and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, for his athletic accomplishments and contributions to sports medicine. In 2010 he was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in Chicago. As medical director of the Live Free African Freedom Tour, on February 26, 2014 he, along with a group of amputees, summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world.