Posted on March 18, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

The National Football League, under pressure to devise a policy on concussions that will safeguard players, Tuesday shook up its committee on head injuries. It appointed two new co-chairman to head that panel.

As The New York Times put it, with its actions this week the NFL appears to be “distancing” itself from its lax and rather embarrassing past record regarding concussions. We agree. For example, the league didn’t fare very well discussing its head-injury policies during hearings before the House Judiciary Committee in October.

Seemingly looking for a fresh start, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell named Dr. H. Hunt Batjer, chairman of neurological surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Evanston, Ill., and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chief of neurological surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, to head the NFL head, neck and spine medical committee.

That’s the new name for what had formerly been called since its 1994 founding the mild traumatic brain injury committee.

Batjer and Ellenbogen will replace Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Vann, who left as co-chairmen last fall. Casson had been skewered during the hearings in Washington for his stubborn refusal to agree that there was a connection between head injuries and higher raters of dementia among retired NFL players.

And there was another piece of news Tuesday. It was disclosed that Dr. Elliott Pellman, who had remained a member of the NFL brain injury panel after stepping down as its chairman in 2007, has resigned as even a member of the group.

An NFL spokesman told The Times that the committee purview had been broadened to include the neck and spine because they areas tied into brain injury.

In a statement, Ellenbogen seemed to make it clear that he considers player head injuries a serious issue.

“I am humbled and honored to be participating in a program by the NFL that recognizes the widespread problem of concussion, which occurs in a wide spectrum of our population, from student-athletes to soldiers to professional athletes,” Ellenbogen said. “I hope through our actions, research and advocacy, we can improve the prevention and treatment of this public health issue for athletes in all sports and at all levels of play.” Batjer and Ellenbogen didn’t wait too long to take action. They are adding Dr. Mitchel Bergen, chairman of neurological surgery at U.C. San Francisco, to the committee. Berger is not a mere academic: He was a defensive end at Harvard University and even tried out for the Chicago Bears in 1974.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447