WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Football League and its players association agreed on Wednesday to cooperate in a congressional call for an independent review of the scope and severity of head injuries in their sport.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of NFL players union, said the wellbeing of current and former players was their top priority amid calls from inside and outside the league for more action.
“We will make all our records available,” Goodell told a hearing on football head injuries by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Smith made the same commitment to an independent analysis.
Chairman John Conyers opened the hearing by calling for the independent review of football head injuries at the professional as well as amateur level.
He noted the NFL had dismissed as “flawed” studies by universities that found that former pro players who suffered concussions were more likely to have clinical depression or cognitive impairment than the general public.
In fact, Conyers said, “The NFL, which is performing its own long-term study, has largely denied any linkage between playing football and long-term brain injuries.”
Citing complaints about the league’s disability plan and handling of injuries and medical records, Conyers said: “We need an expeditious and independent review of all the data.”
Goodell said the NFL would provide medical care to 56 former players who reported memory-related problems in a league-commissioned survey by the University of Michigan that helped prompt Wednesday’s hearing.
“While this was a telephone survey (of 1,070 former players) and not a true medical diagnosis, we share the views of the Michigan researchers that the number of retired players reporting memory-related problems is a concern that needed further research,” Goodell said.
Smith, who became executive director of the players association in March, said: “I acknowledge that the players union in the past has not done its best in this area. We will do better.”
Speaking as a lawmaker as well as the father of a teenage boy who plays football, Conyers said he wanted the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High Schools Association to also provide data for the independent review.
“The serious issues presented by today’s hearing involve matters of life and death,” Conyers said. “They go to the heart of one of the nation’s most popular and profitable sports.
“And equally important, they affect millions of players of all ages and their families.”
Conyers said autopsies on “numerous former NFL players” found that they suffered from brain disease.
He said they included Mike Webster, a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who died a penniless recluse sleeping on the floor of a train station aged 50, and Terry Long, another ex-Steeler, who died aged 45 after drinking anti-freeze.
Conyers said Andre Waters, a 44-year-old former safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, suffered from chronic pain and depression and shot himself.
Editing by Sonia Oxley