NFL to meet with concussion experts Wednesday

NFL to meet with concussion experts Wednesday

Published Jun. 1, 2010 1:00 a.m. ET

The NFL will take another step in its concussion-treatment efforts Wednesday during a league-sponsored seminar at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Medical personnel from all 32 teams, other doctors and Pentagon officials will be in attendance to hear from people Dr. Richard Ellenbogen described as “the best experts in the country arguably in the field of memory and cognitive issues.”

“They’re going to go over all the data and information concerning the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries in football players,” Ellenbogen told me and co-host Jim Miller on Sirius NFL Radio.

Ellenbogen and Dr. Hunt Batjer are the new co-chairmen of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee. Their focus is making professional football safer while also trying to help retired players who suffered brain damage during eras where concussion diagnosis and treatment was neglected.

“This new committee is having a very open mind,” Ellenbogen said. “We need to understand what the risks are.”

Ellenbogen and Batjer are also emphasizing a split from past research that has come under heavy fire from critics for being inaccurate, incomplete and/or ethically compromised. The New York Times reported Tuesday night that both doctors requested Dr. Elliot Pellman not speak at the symposium. Pellman, the former chairman of the NFL’s concussion committee, has since bowed out for what was described as a family reason.

“It’s not about Elliot,” Batjer told the Times. “It’s about a complete severance from all prior relationships from that committee.”

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Ellenbogen and Batjer were taken to task last week when speaking before a House Judiciary Committee. Besides having to answer for the NFL concussion committee’s past failures, Ellenbogen and Batjer were criticized for not having a stronger role in gathering information about equipment like helmets.

Ellenbogen said on Sirius that his committee was “absolutely on the cutting edge of studying helmet technology.” That includes analyzing helmets worn by race-car drivers and soldiers. The U.S. military also should benefit from such research when it comes to helping treat and protect the armed forces.

“We need to know what kind of helmet technology will prevent concussions, but that’s only part of the picture,” said Ellenbogen, the former chief of neurosurgery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “The NFL wants this committee to look at the ‘return to play’ (rules) and dissect them carefully. They also want us to go to the best researchers in the world and ask what is it that we need to do that we’re not doing to protect the player and make it safer. Sit them out longer? Are there cognitive exercises they can do to heal better? All that (research) is being done at the same time.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell enacted stronger concussion rules last fall after speaking before a government committee. Players are now prevented from re-entering a game if they have suffered a concussion and need medical clearance before returning to the field. Franchises also were forced to add outside neurologists for consultation purposes.

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