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NFL seeks concussion legislation

| Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011

WASHINGTON — The NFL wants all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass legislation that could help cut down on concussions suffered by young players.

A quicker route would be through federal legislation, and the NFL backs a bill pending in Congress. But the GOP-led House is unlikely to support that kind of federal role in local matters, so the league sees a bigger opening at the state level.

The suicide of a former player last week highlighted the urgency of the issue. Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, and The New York Times reported he asked that his brain be examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head that is tied to depression, dementia and suicide.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine, which will study Duerson's brain for signs of the disease, said more than 300 athletes, including 100 current and former NFL players, are on its brain donation registry.

The effort is part of a shift by the NFL, which for years has been on the defensive from Congress and the media about how it has handled head injuries. As recently as 2009, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was grilled by lawmakers when he would not acknowledge a connection between head injuries on the field and brain diseases later in life.

Goodell told lawmakers he was "changing the culture" of football when it came to player safety, and the NFL has started slapping players with five-figure fines for illegal hits in an attempt to cut down on head injuries. Goodell said he has committed "substantial resources" to getting youth concussion laws passed across the country, although the league said it didn't have an estimate on what the effort will cost.

The league said it has an obligation to use its clout to help cut down on concussions among America's youth, but it also wants to keep a large pool of potential players healthy.

"We're fortunate that we have more than 3.4 million young athletes playing football, and we want to continue to keep our player source strong and keep it large," said Joe Browne, a senior adviser to Goodell.

There are other motivations, said Gabe Feldman, director of the Sports Law Program at Tulane University Law School.

"There's no question that some of this is a PR play, that the NFL, like any league, is always looking to protect the image of the game," he said. "But it's also a lot more than that. They're also protecting their product" by helping to minimize concussions in future players.

About 135,000 children between the ages of 5 and 18 are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports- or recreation-related concussions and other head injuries.

The legislation the league favors is modeled on Washington state's "Zackery Lystedt Law," named for a middle school player who suffered brain damage in 2006 after he had a concussion and returned to the game. That law requires coaches to remove any player who shows signs of a concussion and bars the player from competing again until cleared by a licensed health-care professional trained in concussion evaluation and management. So far, eight other states have passed such laws, the NFL said.

Additional Information:

League to adopt new sideline test

The NFL will use a new sideline test to determine concussions next season.

In a release Wednesday, the league said more details of the evaluation will be announced Friday in Indianapolis at the annual scouting combine.

The NFL said the new test will include a checklist of symptoms, a limited neurologic evaluation and a balance assessment. It will employ many components of the evaluation process developed during a Concussion in Sport meeting at Zurich in 2008.

The test was developed by the NFL's Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, with input from the team physicians and athletic trainers and their professional associations.

Associated Press

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