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Hearing of the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee - Improving Sports Safety: A Multifaceted Approach


Location: Washington, DC

Decades ago, many thought that a head injury was serious only if a player was completely knocked unconscious or suffered a severe contusion. After frequent painful blows, even a young athlete could continue to play.

But we now have strong indications that the effects of repeated brain trauma in sports -- even those received during one's youth -- can accumulate, with consequences that are long-term, debilitating, and even life-threatening. And these consequences can stem from injuries once considered minor, known as subconcussive blows, which may not be accompanied by any immediate adverse symptoms.

Serious psychological and emotional disorders have been documented among former athletes that suffered repetitive brain trauma. Researchers have repeatedly found evidence of the neurodegenerative disease CTE when examining the brain tissue of dozens of deceased former NFL players. And studies using neuroimaging technologies have shown metabolic changes in the brain associated with concussions and subconcussive blows.

Brain injuries in sports can occur in a wide variety of situations, and different athletes' brains may respond differently to an injury. Sports-related brain injury is a complex matter that requires addressing many interconnected issues. So when the title of this hearing suggests we take a "multifaceted approach" to improve sports safety, I could not agree more.

First, neuroscience research should be allowed to flourish. I am encouraged by the potential of radiological and longitudinal research methods leading to earlier, more accurate diagnosis, to a better understanding of risk factors, and eventually to treatment options for brain injuries. We must ensure that such research is well-funded.

Second, doctors, leagues, associations, coaches, parents, and players must work together to establish health regulations, game rules, and a sporting culture that reflect the seriousness of brain injury and put the athletes' health first. They and lawmakers should also ensure that state concussion laws are adequately protective of brain health and cover not just high school athletics, but all youth sports.

Third, we must address the health and safety risks associated with athletic equipment and pursue a better understanding of how this equipment might be improved.

Three years ago, Mr. Butterfield and I wrote a letter to Chairmen Upton and Bono expressing our deep concern and calling for a hearing about inadequate testing standards, lax reconditioning certifications, and economic disparities regarding the safety of football helmets used by millions of American athletes. We will hear some testimony on these issues, but I believe they merit deeper consideration than they are likely to get at today's hearing. This Subcommittee should hold a separate hearing on these matters.

I think it is valuable that the National Football League is testifying here today. Given recent and ongoing disputes between the league and its players on this very topic, however, I believe its players' organization should also testify. Unfortunately, the late notification of the NFL testifying made it difficult for us to secure a players' witness.

Despite these limitations, today's hearing is important. I appreciate this Subcommittee review of sports-related brain injuries, and I look forward to working together on this issue in the months ahead. Thank you.

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