EXCLUSIVE: Dr. Joseph Maroon – Given a Pass at Concussion Hearing – Was a Campaign Contributor to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller

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The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee – which twice failed to mention Dr. Joseph Maroon by name at obvious junctures of its October 19 hearing on sports concussions – was the recipient of a $2,000 campaign contribution from Maroon in 2007, Federal Election Commission records show.

This development raises the question of whether the Commerce Committee, whose recent hearing focused on the corrupt marketing of putative “anti-concussion products,” deliberately protected Maroon from embarrassment in connection with exposures of the marketing claims of both the Riddell football helmet and a dietary supplement called Sports Brain Guard.

The chairman of the committee is Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia. Maroon is a West Virginia native.

During discussion of the Riddell claim that its Revolution helmet reduced the risk of a football concussion by 31 percent, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico noted that this figure came from an article published in the February 2006 issue of the journal Neurosurgery. Udall went on to explain that the co-author of the article had told The New York Times that he disagreed with Riddell’s use of the 31 percent figure without also acknowledging the “limitations” of the study.

That co-author, unnamed by Udall, was Maroon. Among numerous other roles, he is the team neurosurgeon for the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

Later in the hearing Udall did name Tim Bream, head trainer for the Chicago Bears, as someone who had spoken favorably of the Riddell Revolution helmet in one of its promotional videos.

Also at the hearing, Udall said he was “surprised” to find a supplement company claiming it had a product, called Sports Brain Guard, “that protects against concussions.” In response to Udall’s question, one of the expert panelists, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, said there was no scientific evidence to support such a claim.

Earlier this year I had reported that Maroon endorsed Sports Brain Guard at its website (see https://concussioninc.net/?p=3566). At the time, the page http://www.sportsbrainguard.com/sbg.aspx included a photo of Maroon and a testimonial quote from him. According to my notes from the day of the Commerce Committee hearing, Maroon was still on the Sports Brain Guard site as of October 19. However, he is no longer there.

Federal election records show that Maroon donated $2,000 to Rockefeller on May 29, 2007 – the largest of Maroon’s four most recent campaign contributions totaling $4,500. The others were, in 2010, $1,000 to Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s other U.S. senator, and $500 to Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (who is no longer in office), and in 2011, $1,000 to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

The Center for Responsive Politics (http://opensecrets.org) maintains a user-friendly online database not only of campaign donations by individuals, but also of “soft money” given through organizations and political action committees (PAC’s), and of corporate lobbying expenditures. Over the past 20 years, Maroon has contributed to various politicians, the Democratic National Committee, and the American Neurological Surgery PAC. One of Maroon’s employers, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and its corporate parent UPMC Health Systems, has spent millions of dollars on Washington lobbying.

Senators Rockefeller and Udall did not respond to a request for comment on why the hearing failed to name Maroon, or on any perception that Maroon’s campaign contribution to Rockefeller might have affected the Commerce Committee’s investigation. My queries to Rockefeller and Udall also asked whether the committee had had any contact with Sports Brain Guard about Maroon’s relationship with it; whether committee members or staffers were familiar with Maroon’s endorsement of the product; and whether they had any reaction to news of the post-hearing removal of the endorsement.

Maroon and UPMC likewise did not respond to requests for comment on the appropriateness of Maroon’s campaign contribution to Rockefeller or of his relationship with Sports Brain Guard. In addition, Maroon did not respond to a request to explain the chronology of his endorsement and its removal.

According to the Sports Brain Guard website, the product was created by Dr. Russell Blaylock and developed by Newport Nutritionals, a company based in Irvine, California. There is no contact information listed for Blaylock either at his personal website (http://russellblaylockmd.com) or at the Sports Brain Guard site.

TOMORROW AT CONCUSSION INC.: Internal University of Pittsburgh Medical Center documents open grave questions about how the ImPACT concussion management system is marketed to doctors and high schools.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick