This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The fancy word is "concussion," but the reality is "brain injury" and in some instances even brain damage.
The injuries are real and dangerous problem in the NFL. This month, the NFL adopted tougher rules about players returning to play after getting clobbered in the head and suffering concussions.
But is enough being done? Two NFL legends are here. Coach Mike Ditka is also an NFL Hall of Famer as a player and an ESPN NFL analyst and the chairman of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. Ron Woodson is an NFL network analyst and 2009 pro football Hall of Fame inductee.
Welcome to both of you, and coach, it's always nice to see you back here and "On the Record." So let me go straight to you, coach. How big of problem have the concussions been, and has it been ignored for years. tragically ignored?
MIKE DITKA, FORMER NFL COACH: I think people just consider it to be part of the game, and if you had a concussion you came back and played. In the old days it was nothing. It they raised one finger and you said one you went back into the game and that's all there was to it.
I think the league is trying to do the right thing, I really do. I think they understand that this not a short-term thing. It's a long-term thing and it will affect these guys 20 and 30 years down the road. What we're finding out from players who played in my era who have really gone through this very badly with Alzheimer's and dementia.
VAN SUSTEREN: Rod, how many concussions have you had?
ROD WOODSON, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I've had five concussions in my time of playing. But I agree with Coach Ditka. I think they're doing the right things, because back when I played, you got a concussion, and I remember having a concussion in the first quarter of a game, went in at halftime, my head cleared up, and I went back out and in the second half and I played. But that was the way it was.
I think what they're trying to do now, and I applaud the NFL for doing it now rather than never, is that they're going out and saying we know there's effect to long term concussions to the memory of players.
And that one of the reasons they put the program in. They have program 88 or program 87 in for dementia for the NFL players, especially the retired players. So they're doing something rather than doing nothing at all.
VAN SUSTEREN: Rod, has the helmet changed at all? When you first started playing until when you ended your playing career, did it change at all to make that less of a problem, or is that not really the issue at all?
WOODSON: Well, Coach Ditka, he played, and his helmet was worse than mine. But I played with the same helmet that I had throughout my whole career, the same Riddell old helmet, the padded one, it wasn't the foam ones where could pump the air in. I had an old school helmet, and I liked that helmet and I stayed with it.
The bigger issue is we have seen that Ben Roethlisberger a couple of weeks ago, he got a concussion. The next week he was cleared to play, but he chose not to play. And we seen Hines Ward came out and said basically we need our quarterback to be there and he let our team down against the Baltimore Ravens. They lost that game.
But I think what the NFL is trying to do is get rid of that old mindset. And Hines Ward has the old mindset. I think Ben has the new mindset. And they want that new mindset to come forward where if you feel that you have a problem, if you had blurred vision, memory loss, all the signs that they cannot see, you need to go out and tell them.
And I think they want the players to be proactive and go out there and tell them, the trainers and their doctors. And they can then really decide if you should play or not.
VAN SUSTEREN: Coach, Rod raises an interesting issue. Everybody in the game wants to win. These a very competitive, talented athletes and coaches. So there is almost a personal -- I would -- it would seem to me that people would be more inclined to do whatever they can to get back out and play. So there's a disincentive to sit on the bench.
DITKA: Well, there's no question they want to play. And a macho image to football. Coach Lombardi said a long time ago that football is not a contact sport. He said dancing is a contact sport. He said football is a collision sport. And it is.
And you're having these collisions with guys who are bigger, and they're moving at a high rate of speed. And I don't care how much muscle you build or anything like that, the ligaments and tendons don't get any stronger, and the head certainly doesn't.
And the helmet, you can say what you want to say. When I played we had a single bar on it, and it was padded. It was not a weapon. It is a weapon now.
But the league is doing the right thing. There's no question about it. The guys should not go in the game and it should be an independent doctor that's consulted. And you shouldn't play for a week, probably.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I listen to Rod who is no longer playing, of course, but when you're 22 years old you think that you're invincible, that you're never going to be a 40-year-old man with the beginnings of as Alzheimer or dementia. So what do you do about that, coach? Most of the young men think "It's not going to happen to me."
DITKA: It is, and I think Rod said it correctly. Ben was criticized by some people. But really I think he was applauded by a lot of people that he made the right decision.
You got to look at the long-term consequences of going on and playing with these type of injuries. We've all done it. Rod did it, I played a game. I don't remember a thing about the game until I saw t he film, and still didn't remember. Those things happen.
But has it come back to haunt me yet? Well, it probably will, but it hasn't yet. But I'm just saying they're trying to do the right thing, police it. Keep these guys -- here's the other thing, though. They're going to have to make some allotment for increasing the roster, because they're going to have to replace these guys who are out two to three weeks with concussions.
VAN SUSTEREN: Rod, with the concussions you got, do you notice any residuals at this point in your life?
WOODSON: Greta, I know I forget my keys a lot.
VAN SUSTEREN: I do, too. And I didn't play football.
WOODSON: I think that's the part of old age. Honestly what I would like to see in the National Football League, I would like to see a mandate where they all have to wear mouth guards on a consistent basis and have it in.
I hated wearing a mouth guard because as a safety I need to speak. I need to make checks, and it's hard to do and it's hard to breath with. But it can protect the body and it can protect the mind from getting that jolt. And maybe it's the cushion that the brain needs at that point. I like to see that. I think that's a step of being a positive matter.
But everything the NFL has done so far is telling these guys, wake up. We know there's some long-term effect to concussions and the brain, and players in the National Football League. But go out there.
And Greta, you said a great thing, that 22-year-olds, especially guys that are on the bubble, the guys that aren't the star players, if they tell the coaches they have a concussion, they can't play for two or three weeks, do they get cut? And they're thinking about their paychecks, so they're not going to tell anybody because they want to keep playing because they want that paycheck week in and week out.
VAN SUSTEREN: Rod, thank you, coach, thank you. It's always nice to see you. Get back here, coach, and Rod, I hope you get back.
DITKA: All right.
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