NFL Commissioner Faces Congress Over Concussions

"The brain does not know what caused it to be violently shaken inside the skull," Cantu said, "a football helmet-to-helmet hit, a left hook to the jaw, a check against the boards or even a blast injury in military combat."

Goodell, the son of the late Sen. Charles Goodell, R-N.Y., helped implement what is known as "the 88 plan," which provides up to $88,000 from the NFL and the NFL Players Association to aid with the care of players afflicted with dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other brain diseases. Moreover, former players participating in the program do not have to prove that their brain injury is related to football.

Merrill Hoge, an ESPN analyst covering the NFL, played seven seasons in professional football but was forced out after suffering multiple concussions. Hoge suggested that Congress help establish a new national standard to evaluate brain injuries in athletes by requiring that a neurological doctor be part of all evaluations of head trauma and that an athlete is not cleared to play until they are asymptomatic for seven consecutive days.

"If we established those standards with all football, we would have less tragic stories than we have to this point," Hoge said.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., whose husband Sidney Williams played in the NFL, asked the commissioner what the league was doing now to improve the welfare of retired players during ongoing collective bargaining negotiations with the player's union.

"We've heard from the NFL time and time again: You're always studying, you're always trying, you're hopeful," Waters said.

As Goodell tried to explain that the negotiations are in early stages, Waters pressed her point.

"I know that you do everything that you possibly can to hold onto those profits, but I think the responsibility of this Congress is to take a look at that antitrust exemption that you have and, in my estimation, to take it away," Waters said.

A 1961 law grants professional sports leagues antitrust exemptions for broadcasting. That exemption has enabled the NFL to sign television contracts totaling billions of dollars and has transformed the league into the successful moneymaker it is today.

Goodell was joined at the witness table by his counterpart in the collective bargaining negotiations, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.

"My number one priority is to protect those who play and have played this game," Smith said. "There is no interest greater than their health and safety."

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked Goodell and Smith to open up their medical records to a congressional investigation.

Both agreed to provide the committee with the data.

Conyers said he wants to collect the information to help him understand the dangers and risks associated with football at all levels of competition.

"We need an expeditious and independent review of all the data," Conyers said. "I say this not simply because of the impact of these injuries on the 2,000 current players and more than 10,000 retirees associated with the NFL and their families. I say it because of the effect on the millions of players at the college, high school and youth levels."

Still, some members of the committee questioned whether Congress should get involved in the business of the NFL, suggesting the NFL doesn't need a referee in Washington, D.C.

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