Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger

Last week's New York Times article reporting widespread chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of deceased NFL players reignited the concern that collision-sport athletes who suffer concussions are at risk for long-term brain damage.

Some critics have pointed out that because the study was done on players who had donated their brains, there was a bias that over-reported the nature of the problem. But I consider concussions to be a ticking time bomb and an under-reported health epidemic that should raise flags of caution for participants in football, hockey, field hockey and even youth soccer.DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Lamur

I love football and these other sports, and I have made a living for the past 43 years as an attorney specializing in the representation of pro football players and other athletes. NFL football is our top national entertainment today, and college and high school football are not far behind. Football teaches great life lessons: self-discipline, courage and teamwork, as well as how to perform under pressure and master complex information to apply in real time.

But what I value more than the game is the players' long-term health and ability to live a happy life. How can we make football and all collision sports safer?

1. Reaching a consensus on the age at which playing tackle football does not entail unnecessary risk for long-term brain development. Experts agree that a young brain is still in formation. They also agree that the symptoms of concussion are more severe and last longer in a youthful brain. Dr. Robert Cantu, a longtime leader in the field of concussion research and treatment, believes that tackle football should not be played before age 14. Terry O'Neil and his organization Practice Like Pros advocate that tackle football not be played before ninth grade. Pop Warner and other youth football programs have been the starting point for football for generations. Clear medical guidelines are necessary.

2. Teaching safer techniques in blocking and tackling from the first time an athlete learns how to play football. USA Football has created the Heads Up Football program to train coaches with classes in topics like safer blocking and tackling, concussion recognition and response, and proper equipment. They also train "player safety coaches" to supervise team activities to ensure player safety and compliance with safety guidelines. Educating coaches, parents and athletes to learn safer techniques from the beginning will make it more likely that players are able to conform to rules at the high school, college and professional levels.

3. Upgrading the quality of equipment at the high school level. Budget shortages and economics play a role in this, but often the helmets and other protective safeguards are substandard and shoddy at the high school level. Standards should be mandated and followed to ensure that high school football utilizes the new breakthroughs in these products and doesn't put players at higher risk. With the understanding that weather wreaks havoc on playing surfaces, there needs to be some degree of uniformity that provides proper footing.

4. Baseline testing should be required, as in the NHL. Dr. Mark Lovell was a pioneer in creating the ImPACT program, which establishes a cognitive level before play that then serves as a benchmark for determining how much diminution has occurred after a concussion. About 7,400 high schools and 1,000 universities employ these tests, which should be required. The schools that cannot afford them need to be subsidized by governmental entities or private business.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.

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