"Typically when we do a test or medical study, we're taking a snapshot," said Dr. Herman Taylor, principal investigator of the Jackson Heart Study at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and one of the scientists enlisted from outside Harvard. "What we want to do is see the full-length movie of what happens to a player over time.
"How is it that two men that play the same position for the same number of years have vastly different lives after playing? Not everyone suffers from the same types of problems, and not everything can be explained by simple repetitive traumas."
Ideas floated for study include using advanced scanning techniques and genetics to fuel knowledge about who is most at risk for head injury, finding ways to re-grow knee ligaments in a lab, identifying injury prevention strategies such as new drugs or new helmets, and addressing ethical issues surrounding player injuries.
"One of the broader aims of the research is conflicts of interest when you have a patient who will do anything to get back on the field and a doctor who works for and is paid by a club," said Sean Sansiveri, NFLPA staff counsel.
The holistic focus of the research does not obviate the importance of concussion, said Sansiveri. Work on concussion will be a major focus, "but there are a lot of unique issues that our guys face within a unique context ... other ailments and diagnoses that are prevalent in the football population."
Funding for the study will come from the players' portion of league revenues, currently being negotiated between the NFL and the Players Association. The exact figure to be allocated for the study is still to be determined, according to Atallah, and most likely will not be finalized until after the Super Bowl.
The absence of a finalized plan has not stopped the NFLPA from imagining what a successful study could mean, not just for NFL players, but for athletes in other sports.
"If this $100 million of research would have caused a groundbreaking discovery in one critical area of a player's life or health, then we would have succeeded," said Atallah. "Whether it's an ACL issue or a mental health issue or a concussion issue, if we find one solution to any of those things we're studying, it would have been a success."