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Congressional Committee Asks NFL Tough Questions on Concussion Injuries

Congress  is continuing to look at the difficulties that disabled football players are having in receiving disability benefits following a traumatic brain injury or other disabling medical condition.

The House Judiciary Committee sent letters to the NFL and the NFL Players Association last week seeking information about the health care and pension system. The information will be passed to the Congressional Research Service, which will conduct an independent study of football's benefits program.

According to an article in the Daily News, "Several members of the committee have suggested that Congress should intervene to fix what has been described as a broken system of delivering disability benefits to former NFL players," committee chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw. "The CRS study will provide the essential facts to help us consider what steps, if any, Congress could take on this issue."

The NFL and the Players Association have until Oct. 26 to provide the information to the committee. to retired players and their families."

In hearings conducted before the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, retired players set forth the unfairness of the plan in it's determination of disability benefits, especially when it comes to brain damage.  Although players presented the disability plan with substantial evidence of traumatic brain damage and permanent disability, the disability plan chose instead to rely on it's own paid hired guns to conclude that injured players either did not have an injury or were not permanently disabled. 

In reviewing the reports of some of these hired guns, I have been shocked at their cursory review of the medical evidence, their inadequate testing protocols and their reliance on outdated medical opinions regarding the diagnosis of concussions and the pervasive cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical consequences which follow.  Equally disturbing was to see that plan physicians have even chosen to ignore the positive findings in their own test instruments.

  • How is it that only 4 players have ever been deemed to be disabled following a concussion and a traumatic brain injury? 
  • How can the plan continue to insist that before a diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury can be made their must be a positive CT scan or MRI scan when these notions have long been abandoned by the American Congress of Neurosurgeons and other medical groups? 
  • How can plan doctors honestly say that a player did not sustain a concussion because there was no loss of consciousness when the CDC unequivocally had stated that a concussion can occur with resultant brain damage even without loss of consciousness? 
  • How can league medical providers claim that a player's psychological problems cannot be caused by a traumatic brain injury when the National Institute of Health consensus statement on traumatic brain injury clearly spells out the behavioral, emotional and psychological consequences of brain damage?

The plan must be compelled to answer these questions and many more.



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Barbara Sandusky

My husband is an NFL retiree. He had a seizure many years after leaving his football career. He also had symptoms of other problems (immediately) such as short-term memory loss and dizziness. His neurologist, after numerous tests and studies, determined that Mike's problems were caused by "too many hits to the head". The term "post concussion syndrome" came later on. The physical, emotional and financial toll has been devestating. He took his NFL pension after his traumatic episode (I did this for him) for financial reasons, since his doctors determined that Mike should only work part-time. Although he is not a candidate for full disability, it is my opinion that the NFL/NFLPA owes the retirees significantly increased pensions and other types of aid. I was sent a video (by Frank Woschitz)of what may be the first seminar on concussions. This was in 1994! I have followed stories/studies on the subject, and am angered by what I believe to be denial on the part of of the NFL/NFLPA. Thanks to the tireless efforts on the part of many NFL retirees (some that are relatively well but understanding of the cause) and some doctors and researchers, some headway is being made. Instead of what I call the "you can't prove it" theory, after what seems to be endless studies over many years, I say this.......just shut up and DO it. As Mike Ditka says, "do the right thing!"
Barbara Sandusky
wife of Mike, Pgh.Steelers, '57-'65

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