Continuing to shine a light on the long term effects of head injuries, Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez (CA-39) yesterday sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith requesting full Committee hearings on the physical impacts, cost of care, and legal issues related to head injuries in professional and amateur sports. Congresswoman Sánchez made her request after revelations that the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL) engaged in a "bounty system" that rewarded players for purposely injuring opposing players.
"We are long overdue for a comprehensive national dialogue on the effects of head injuries, not just for NFL players, but for everyone who participates in sports at all levels," Congresswoman Sánchez said. "Previous Judiciary Committee hearings started a much needed discussion on traumatic brain injuries in football. Those hearings led to positive changes to brain injury guidelines on the professional, college and high school levels. With more of our children playing contact sports, new Judiciary Committee hearings on head injuries could be a crucial step in protecting our children from serious injury."
In 2007, Congresswoman Sánchez chaired a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law to examine if the NFL's player disability plan was adequately serving former players, many of whom suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of multiple concussions. In the 111th Congress, Congresswoman Sánchez participated in multiple hearings regarding head injuries and football, and grilled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell over the league's concussion awareness campaign. These hearings resulted in greater public awareness and changes to how football teams address player concussions on all levels of play.
The full text of the letter is below.
March 26, 2012
Chairman Lamar Smith
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Smith,
As you are aware, there has been a great deal of recent media attention regarding injuries in professional sports. Like many sports fans, I was incredibly disturbed by recent revelations that the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL) engaged in a "bounty system" that rewarded players for purposely injuring opposing players.
I commend the NFL for taking immediate and severe action in disciplining those involved in the Saints' bounty system. I believe the actions by the NFL will help deter anyone from participating in this type of behavior in the future.
However, in light of these recent events and the potential liability issues from the ongoing litigation against the NFL by former players with mental and physical problems caused by head injuries, I am requesting that the House Judiciary Committee conduct a series of hearings to investigate and discuss the physical impacts, quantitative costs of care, and any legal issues related to head injuries in professional and amateur sports. These liability issues deserve federal scrutiny due to the NFL's legislatively sanctioned, antitrust exempt status.
My concern is not the New Orleans Saints and their completely inexcusable behavior. My concern, and the concern of millions parents throughout this country, is determining what are the long term effects of head injuries. It is estimated that 1.6 to 3.8 million Americans will suffer a sports-related concussion each year[i]. I believe the "Bounty Gate" scandal reaffirms the need for Congress to examine the liability, health, and safety issues related to head injuries in professional and amateur sports.
More and more of our children are engaging in contact sports and they are starting at earlier ages than previous generations. Currently, there are approximately 5 million athletes participating in organized football in the United States; with 2000 NFL players, 100,000 college players, 1.3 million high school players, and 3.5 million youth players[ii] [iii]. Additionally, a recent study shows that head impacts among second-grade football players are sometimes as severe as the impacts that college players experience, even though the youth players have less body mass and play at slower speeds[iv].
These hearing are not meant to discourage people from engaging in competitive sports. In fact, these hearings will be designed to discover the effective practices that protect players, especially children, from injury. It is my hope that these hearings will provide a level of education for parents and athletes regarding the long term effects of head injuries.
As you will recall, hearings in previous Congresses brought public attention to the issue of traumatic brain injuries in sports and led to reforms on all levels of sport. Those hearings made a very real and positive impact on the health and safety of our constituents. I believe it is appropriate now for us to return to this issue for Congressional oversight.
It is time to start a comprehensive national dialogue on the effects of brain injuries, not just for retried NFL players, but for everyone that participates in amateur sports. We owe it to all of these groups to be proactive on head injuries and to continue to bring public attention to the dangers. Most importantly, we owe it to our children to search for solutions in protecting them from serious injury.
Linda T. Sánchez
Member of Congress