We all know what happened to Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. Last year, before the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and he lost his own seat in a personal scandal, Weiner was the second most effective member of the Judiciary Committee putting heat on the National Football League for its unforgivable suppression and denial of research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
(The most effective committee member was Linda Sanchez of California, who in 2009 committee hearings drew the analogy between the NFL and the tobacco industry.)
In March 2010 the NFL’s concussion policy panel, called the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, got a new name and new co-chairs. Now known as the Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee, it is jointly chaired by Dr. H. Hunt Batjer, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital outside Chicago, and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Batjer and Ellenbogen replaced the disgraced Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano, who in turn had replaced the disgraced Dr. Elliot Pellman.
Though Batjer and Ellenbogen promised to sweep out the Augean stable of league head injury custodians, they have done nothing of the sort. For example, Dr. Joseph Maroon, whose corrupt involvement in this sordid history has been extensively documented by me, remains on the committee.
And in July the two new co-chairs reversed a commitment not to release an ambiguously worded NFL helmet safety study with limited or no value for the broader universe of amateur helmet consumers. In the good coverage of this narrow issue by The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz, Ellenbogen explained that he decided the study was OK “as long as statements were phrased very carefully.” Congressman Weiner blasted this “disturbing step backwards.”
Meanwhile, Batjer and Ellenbogen – who are supposed to be independent but whose public statements get screened by the NFL office – forged ahead with mom-and-apple-pie projects, such as the toughening up of language in posters warning players of the risk of brain injury.
Last month Ellenbogen told The Wall Street Journal: “I defer to the guys who are the experts at football: the competition committee, people like John Madden who actually know the game.” (The money-grubbing Madden knows the game so well that the new edition of his bestselling video game bows to the new “concussion awareness.”) For a good analysis of Ellenbogen’s flawed stance, see “For the NFL, Is More Protection Really the Answer to Its Concussion Quandary?” by Mike Seely of Seattle Weekly, http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2011/05/for_the_nfl_is_more_protection.php.