Blog: February 8, 2010

Congress Continues Concussion Hearings

By Abigail Funk

In the past four months, we've seen a flurry of activity in Congress surrounding the treatment of head injuries in the NFL, colleges, and high schools. Here, we recap the congressional hearings and get you up to speed on who's stepping up to the plate in guarding against head injuries.

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The House Judiciary Committee's latest attempt at addressing the issue of concussions was a forum held the first week in February evaluating how head injuries are handled at the college and high school levels. This time, several big-time college conferences were criticized for not adopting tougher return-to-play guidelines than what the NCAA recommends.

"It's money, money, money, and healthcare ought to be considered," Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said during the hearing. "When you hear that no college conference has any standards different from the N.C.A.A., that's minimalism. That's doing the least we can do to get along, and that's wrong."

Several individual states received kudos at the hearing, however, including Washington and Oregon, which have both adopted new laws in the past year that require concussed athletes to get a doctor's clearance before they are allowed to return to play. The laws also concentrate on proper education for coaches, athletes, and athletes' parents.

Now, several other states are following suit. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are all either examining or proposing legislation that would require an athlete who exhibited signs of a concussion to obtain written clearance from a physician before returning to play. And in Maine and New Jersey, lawmakers have established committees or working groups to further explore the topic.

"We've ignored it for so long and now the baby boomer generation of athletes are coming to middle age and older adulthood and we're seeing the effects that the bodily abuse has had on them over the years," Don Calloway (R-Mo.), who filed legislation in his state, told the Associated Press. "You wonder what we could have done as a society or as leagues or just as citizens to perhaps have prevented some of that stuff."

The first House Judiciary Committee hearing was held in late October of last year, and featured NFL personnel, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, being grilled by various House Representatives. Former players, a former team executive, and lawmakers all accused the league of not taking head injuries seriously enough and ignoring research that has shown the devastating short- and long-term effects of concussions.

"The NFL sort of has this blanket denial or minimizing of the fact that there may be this link," Representative Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.) said during the hearing. "And it sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies pre-90s when they kept saying, 'Oh, there's no link between smoking and damage to your health.'"

About a month later, all 32 NFL teams received a memo from Goodell noting that players who exhibit concussion symptoms should not be allowed to return to play on that day. Previously, players were held out of action for the day only if they lost consciousness.

"The evidence demonstrates that team medical staffs have been addressing concussions in an increasingly cautious and conservative way," Goodell wrote in the memo. "This new return-to-play statement reinforces our commitment to advancing player safety. Along with improved equipment, better education, and rules changes designed to reduce impacts to the head, it will make our game safer for the men who play it, and set an important example for players at all levels of play."

The House Judiciary Committee then held a follow-up hearing in January. Ira Casson, MD, former co-chair of the NFL committee on head injuries--who resigned from his position last November after being conspicuously absent from the first hearing in October--was present. Casson maintained that there is not enough medical evidence to support a link between repeat head injuries and brain damage in NFL players, but other medical professionals couldn't disagree more.

"It's ridiculous and no sports medicine physician I know would agree with him," Lewis Maharam, MD, a past president of the New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, told the Daily News. "It is common knowledge that repeated injuries to the head cause brain damage."


Athletic Management has compiled a comprehensive list of concussion resources for you to use here.


Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.

FEEDBACK:

Our state (Colorado) is debating the use of helmets for 7 on 7
football. (passing drill for QBs, receivers, linebackers and d-backs).

We believe it would be safer to wear helmets during those drills. Not
only a safety issue regarding concussions during these drills but also
cut down on mouth/teeth injuries. Opponents say it will only make the
players more aggressive.

We have also proposed to the State Board of Control a Proposal to allow
helmets in the summer for non-contact practice. We believe this
proposal would be positive because it would allow time for coaches to
teach proper technique and also allow time for proper helmet fitting.

Thank you for your feedback.

- Kent Waryan
Executive Director of Athletics and Activities
Jeffco Public Schools