Mobile Menu - OpenMobile Menu - Closed

Committee Democratic Leaders Urge NCAA & Youth Football Leagues to Prevent & Mitigate Repetitive Brain Trauma

May 4, 2016
Press Release
Ask What Policy & Rules Changes Are Being Considered to Address the Risks of Both Concussive and Subconcussive Hits

WASHINGTON, DC – As youth Spring football games begin around the nation, Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today sent letters to collegiate and youth football leaders asking how they plan to prevent and mitigate the risks of degenerative brain disorders for student-athletes.  The request comes after the National Football League acknowledged for the first time at a Committee roundtable in March that there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders.

Energy and Commerce Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote that they are seeking to understand what rule or policy changes each of the organizations is considering to address the risks posed by both concussive and subconcussive hits. 

“While changes at the professional level are important, football organizations across all levels, as appropriate, should consider rules changes and educational outreach to ensure the safety of all athletes and their developing brains,” the four lawmakers wrote in their letters.  “Additionally, we need to ensure that parents have accurate, up-to-date information necessary to make informed decisions about their children’s participation in football and other contact sports.”

The Committee leaders sent separate letters to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert, National Federation of State High School Associations Executive Director Bob Gardner, USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck and Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. Executive Director Jon Butler. 

In the letters, the four lawmakers asked the athletic leaders to answer four questions by May 25, including how they are addressing the risks of subconcussive hits to players and if current rules sufficiently protect players against the long-term effects of subconcussive hits. 

Recent research suggests that athletes can sustain significant brain damage caused solely by repeated head impacts, or subconcussive events, even if those collisions do not result in concussions.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the problem is of special concern in youth sports because children and teens may be more vulnerable to brain injuries than adults, and take longer to recover. 

Researchers have also discovered pathologic and clinical evidence of long-term neurological effects—including the development of degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—related to collision sports like football.  Boston University (BU) researchers have found CTE in the brains of 90 out of 94 NFL players, in 45 out of 55 college players, and in 26 out of 65 high school players who donated their brains to the BU Brain Bank.

Youth sports organizations have begun to consider changes to the rules governing contact, given declining participation and the publicity around the negative effects of concussions and repetitive head trauma.  For example, Pop Warner, which operates youth football programs, instituted a change to their rules in 2012 regarding head-on blocking and tackling during practices.  The change limited the amount of practice time devoted to physical contact and set a maximum distance of three yards from which players could be apart during full-speed tackling drills. 

The individual letters can be found below:

Letter to the NCAA

Letter to the National Federation of State High School Associations

Letter to USA Football

Letter to Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc.