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Rep. Pascrell Urges NCAA to Implement Concussion Guidelines, Penalties

Cites Michigan mishandling of player’s head injury as an example of reason for stronger protocols

Washington, DC, November 12, 2014

Today, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, urged the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to implement mandatory concussion management guidelines for players and to assess penalties for violations of those guidelines.  In September, Rep. Pascrell urged Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany to investigate the circumstances surrounding the University of Michigan’s mishandling of a player’s head injury.

“I am writing to encourage you to address the NCAA’s inadequate approach toward traumatic brain injury,” Pascrell wrote in a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert.  “The NCAA’s rules govern a wide array of coach, team, school, and player behavior, and the NCAA generally associates penalties with the violation of its rules. I think we can both agree that if the NCAA has rules and penalties governing the size of the envelopes permitted to be sent to recruits, it should have mandatory protocols and penalties for handling something as serious as head injuries.”

The full text of the letter follows:

November 12, 2014

Mr. Mark Emmert
President
National Collegiate Athletic Association
700 W. Washington Street
P.O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206

Dear Mr. Emmert,

I am writing to encourage you to address the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) inadequate approach toward traumatic brain injury (TBI). As the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, I urge you to implement strong, mandatory concussion management guidelines for your member organizations in light of what modern medicine has taught us about head injuries. Additionally, I ask you to assess penalties for violations of those guidelines.

In the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, which works to increase awareness of brain injury in the United States, supports research initiatives for rehabilitation and potential cures, and strives to address the effects such injuries have on families, children, education, and the workforce.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related TBIs are estimated to occur in the United States each year, ranging from relatively mild concussions to fatal head injuries. Though symptoms may appear minor, the injury can have life-long effects on an individual’s memory, behavior, learning, and/or emotions.

The threat was on full display during the University of Michigan’s (Michigan) game against the University of Minnesota. After Michigan quarterback Shane Morris sustained a brutal hit from a Minnesota player, he struggled to stand up, appeared groggy, and almost collapsed into one of his teammate’s arms. Despite exhibiting tell-tale signs of a concussion, Morris was kept in the game for one play, and then hobbled off the field. He later re-entered the game for a short period before leaving the field. While this incident gained a significant amount of attention, it is by no means the first time proper concussion protocol was not followed. Inadequate responses to head injuries span multiple sports.

After the incident at Michigan, I wrote a letter to Big 10 Conference Commissioner Jim Delany and asked him to assess penalties for the violation of the Big 10’s concussion protocol. In his response to me, Commissioner Delany declined to address that request. If individual conferences are not going to monitor and penalize concussion management protocol violations, the NCAA must step in and assume that responsibility.

Earlier this year, your organization struck a tentative agreement with a group of former players who filed suit against the organization for medical problems stemming from concussions sustained during their college football careers. Under the terms of the settlement, none of the funds will be used for players’ medical costs. However, in the future, NCAA schools would have to follow certain procedures when their players suffer head trauma. Let me be clear, in order for any concussion protocols you are considering adopting in order to comply with this settlement to be effective, there must be penalties associated with the violation of them.

The NCAA’s rules govern a wide array of coach, team, school, and player behavior, and the NCAA generally associates penalties with the violation of its rules. For example:

•    On February 1, 2012, two Oklahoma University assistant coaches sent congratulatory text messages to two student athletes who signed with Oklahoma in violation in NCAA rules. The NCAA issued penalties in both instances
•    On July 19, 2012, an Oklahoma University assistant coach accidentally “pocket-dialed” a recruit a day after receiving a permissible text message from the recruit. The NCAA issued a penalty for this infraction.
•    In the fall of 2013, the father of a University of Oregon football recruit realized he’d forgotten his shaving cream and razor at home while on an official visit. When a member of Oregon's game day staff learned of the forgotten toiletries, the employee bought a replacement set from a local store. The NCAA issued a penalty for this infraction.
•    On March 6 and 7, 2014, an Auburn University coach provided tickets to two postseason athletics events totaling $28 to a high school coach, who is also an alum and booster. The NCAA issued a penalty for this infraction.
•    Between January 1, 2013 and March 21, 2014, when sending potential recruits information, the West Virginia University women’s basketball sent it in envelopes measuring 10 inches wide and 13 inches tall. NCAA rules require that envelopes be 9 inches wide and 12 inches tall. The NCAA issued a penalty for this infraction.
•    During the 2013-2014 school year, Florida State sent recruits correspondence on stationary that included “color, graphics, and other non-text items” on two sides of the stationary, in violation of the NCAA’s rule that these items only appear on one-side of the stationary. The NCAA issued a penalty for this infraction.

I think we can both agree that if the NCAA has rules and penalties governing the size of the envelopes permitted to be sent to recruits, it should have mandatory protocols and penalties for handling something as serious as head injuries.

I strongly urge you to take action to adequately address TBI in your organization. We witness the immediate effects of head injuries when they occur, but the long-term implications are rarely broadcast on national television. I encourage the NCAA to set a positive example for young fans who aim to emulate their favorite players. If young fans see college athletes and universities treat head injuries with such little regard, they too will by example not treat head injuries with the gravity they deserve. Every concussion is brain damage and must be diagnosed and treated by appropriate medical personnel, who prioritize players’ health, safety, and well-being.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to your response regarding NCAA’s consideration of and implementation of policies that prioritize player safety in the event of a brain injury. Please feel free to contact Alyssa Penna in my office at Alyssa.Penna@mail.house.gov or (202)225-5751.

Sincerely,

Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress

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