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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NFL Players and Efforts to Protect Them From Concussions

L. Elaine Halchin
Specialist in American National Government

For many years, it was said that National Football League (NFL) players who had sustained concussions were “dinged,” or “had gotten their bell rung.” Out of a sense of loyalty to their teammates, a desire to win, or concern that sitting on the bench with an injury would hurt their chances to make the team, players would—and, perhaps, were expected to—play through their injuries, including concussions.

Beginning around 2006 or 2007, the NFL, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), and others increased their efforts to safeguard active players and assist former players (although there has been no explicit, public acknowledgment by the league that repetitive brain injuries cause dementia and related illnesses in retired NFL players). It should be noted, however, that one milestone predates this time period. The NFL established its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee in 1994; its successor, the Head, Neck and Spine Medical (HNS) Committee, was formed in 2010. As for the NFLPA, it established the Mackey-White Traumatic Brain Injury Committee in 2009.

Significant changes in the league’s return-to-play guidelines and ongoing efforts to change or refine the rules of the game are a couple of the initiatives undertaken by the league. These changes, and others, have been accompanied by renewed efforts to inform players of the signs and symptoms of concussions and alert them to the possibility of long-term consequences. A rigorous, established evaluation methodology could aid in ascertaining whether such efforts have been successful.

Benefits available to former players who suffer from dementia or neurological conditions include the 88 Plan and the neurological care program. An eligible retired player may apply for total and permanent (T&P) disability benefits on the basis of problems or illnesses related to brain injuries. If his application is approved, however, the cost of the required level of care might exceed the amount of his T&P benefit.

Congressional interest in NFL players and concussions has been manifested in several hearings held by the House Committee on the Judiciary. Hearings were held during the 111
th Congress on the following dates: October 28, 2009; January 4, 2010; February 1, 2010 (this gathering was labeled a forum); and May 24, 2010.

As the NFL, NFLPA, and others continue their efforts to safeguard active players or assist retired players, Congress may choose to monitor these efforts. Specific issues that may interest Congress include, for example, certification standards for football helmets, NFL policy and rule changes, benefits for retired players suffering from dementia or related illnesses, and, though beyond the scope of this report, whether changes at the professional level influence the policies in college, high school, and youth football

Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: R41555
Price: $29.95

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