Congress Must Pass The ConTACT Act
Of all the great plays during 2009 NFL regular season, my favorite was made by the league itself.
The NFL’s progress in handling concussions shows the league has realized what the U.S. military realized as troops returned from Iraq and Afghanistan: concussions aren’t just a matter of getting one’s “bell rung.” From the battlefield, to the gridiron, to the fields our children play on, a first concussion makes a person more vulnerable to having a second – by as much as six times, according to the Centers for Disease Control. An estimated 3.8 million people suffer concussions during sports and recreational activities each year, proving you don’t need to wear a uniform to face the risk of concussion.
For years, concussions – also known as traumatic brain injury (TBI) – have been regarded as the signature injury of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, it was reported to have affected 360,000 of our service personnel fighting for our country in these regions. I urged my colleagues in Congress to support efforts by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin system-wide baseline testing, screening, and assessment to identify concussions in our servicemen and women and provide them with the care they need.
Last year, the Pentagon began incorporating brain injury screening as part of its post-deployment assessment of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq – a victory for TBI victims who had survived blasts during their tours of duty.
Congress also helped establish in December 2007 the Defense Department’s Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. The center works with the Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Departments to establish best practices and quality standards for the treatment of traumatic brain injury.
Before any of this progress could be made, the military had to understand the gravity of the TBI problem among its people on the field. The same could be said for the NFL.
The league appeared to get that understanding after a congressional hearing in October at which I testified as co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. Before the House Judiciary Committee, the NFL top brass were questioned for allowing and, at times, encouraging players to play without regard to their head injuries.
Medical experts and players testified to the same facts learned by our nation’s military leaders: concussions are invisible wounds that are often overlooked, misdiagnosed and undertreated.
Soon after the hearing, the NFL’s top management later reversed its denial of any association between concussions and long-term effects on players. The league now requires independent neurologists to review concussions and airs public service announcements about sports concussions on the NFL network. Most recently, the NFL announced its support of Boston University’s studies of football related concussions. Many college and professional athletic associations have followed the NFL’s lead in adopting concussion-management guidelines, including the use of baseline and post-injury testing. Similar diagnostic tools are used among our nation’s service members.
Unfortunately, those tools are not available to all local middle and high schools and many concussed high school athletes may be returning to play too soon. I introduced the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools (ConTACT) Act last year to help schools and coaches properly care for student athletes who sustain concussions in any sport.
The legislation would call for the nation’s top medical authorities to establish concussion management guidelines—including return-to-play criteria— and authorize funds for middle and high schools to acquire baseline and post-injury testing technologies.
We can help prevent student injuries and deaths. Just as a young athlete follows a football hero’s path, Congress must emulate the NFL’s greatest play of the season by passing the ConTACT Act.