NFL Congressional Hearing 2010

The second round of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s hearings into helmet-to-helmet impact injuries in football was held at the Margherio Family Conference Center at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine Jan. 4.

The committee, headed by Congressman John Conyers, is investigating the affect of concussions on National Football League (NFL) players with an eye to improve its rules and helmets. Their real interest is to protect amateur youth players in college, high school and middle school, says Albert King. Those players and organizations look up to the NFL as their role model.

King did not testify, but you can say he was an interested observer. As chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department and former director of the Bioengineering Center, King and Wayne State have been at the forefront of head injury research in the country. It has studied head injuries for decades and has either led or been involved with the medical school in more than a few NFL-supported research studies.

The NFL is under scrutiny by Conyers and Congress as former players clamor for changes in the game rules. An increasing number of retired players are being diagnosed with dementia, disabilities and even early deaths due to brain injuries.

While the Wayne State studies commissioned by the NFL over the years studied concussions and the dynamics of the players’ head injuries, King said he was never able to persuade the NFL to study the helmets to make improvements.

Congress is fighting back by “trying to beat up on the NFL for not paying enough attention to the effects of repeat-concussions these football players are having,” King says. In the past, the NFL has rested on claims by its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee that there is no solid scientific evidence linking repeated concussions and brain injury symptoms cropping up in later life. But the key question posed by Conyers at the hearing at Wayne State is not whether the dots can be connected, King says, but ‘Why, with the mounting evidence, hasn’t the NFL done something to improve the helmets?’

King says he decided to submit proposals directly to Conyer’s office to see if he can work to obtain congressional appropriations to conduct research using NFL helmets for the express purpose of improving them.