The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas is creating a new Institute for Brain Injury and Repair and are requesting funding from the Texas legislature.
Dr. Hunt Batjer, who serves as co-chair of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee, is the head of neurosurgery at UTSW. The NFL spoke today on his behalf Tuesday. Here is Jeff Miller’s testimony:
TESTIMONY OF JEFF MILLER SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT PUBLIC AFFAIRS
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON FINANCE
OF THE TEXAS STATE SENATE
JANUARY 29, 2013
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee,
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today on an issue of great importance to the National Football League. As you consider the request before you and UT Southwestern’s vision for the Texas Collaborative Institute for Traumatic Brain Injury and Repair, I am pleased to provide the committee with some thoughts on the NFL’s experience with the issue of traumatic brain injury and our appreciation for the leadership Dr. Hunt Batjer has offered us and currently offers UT Southwestern on this important matter.
Sports competition at all levels — and for many sports other than football — involves physical risk. We recognize and accept that. But there is nothing more important to the NFL than the safety of our players, and there is no issue of greater importance when it comes to player safety than the effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment of concussions.
Concussions are not just an NFL or sports issue. They are a public health issue. The NFL has, and will continue to play, an active role. Leadership and collaboration across all sports and with many academic and health care leaders will be critical. The diagnosis of concussions in youth sports has increased fourfold in 11 years — at a rate of 15 percent a year. Some of this is due to increased awareness of the risks and signs of a concussion — awareness that we believe the NFL has helped to promote.
Football has earned a vital place in the rhythm of American life. Nearly 6 million kids play flag or tackle football; another 1.1 million play football in high school; and 75,000 play in college. The National Football League has grown to be the most popular sport in the country.
With that, we have a responsibility to be leaders, especially on the health and safety of the game. This is a responsibility we embrace.
It is for that reason that when we conducted a national search for the leadership of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee in March 2010, the NFL asked Dr. Hunt Batjer to be our co-chairman. At that time, Dr. Batjer was the Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. His background includes a time as president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and Society of University Neurosurgeons, and chair of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. Recently, he returned to his roots at UT Southwestern, as you know, and is now the Lois C.A. and Darwin Smith Distinguished Chair, Neurological Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Dr. Batjer, along with his co-chairman, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen of the University of Washington School of Medicine, are nationally renowned experts in the field of head and spine injury. Their engagement has strengthened our leadership role in research, education, prevention, and treatment of these injuries in sports. We have been enormously impressed by their knowledge, experience, and passion in the almost three years that Dr. Batjer and Dr. Ellenbogen have been advising the league.
Drs. Batjer and Ellenbogen lead a committee of many of the foremost minds on concussion in the country. They have assembled an all-volunteer advisory panel of doctors, scientists, and thought leaders in brain injury from academia, sports medicine, engineering, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Defense. The NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee includes some of the NFL’s earlier critics. This group has four subcommittees and is directing discussion and research — ranging from long-term outcomes to education to making safer equipment.
In the nearly three years that Dr. Batjer has led our advisory committee, we have continued to make significant contributions to the scientific knowledge of, public education around, and best practices concerning concussion and head injury. Let me offer you just a few of the many developments we have made in concert with the leadership Dr. Batjer and his colleagues have provided:
- The NFL designated $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to conduct scientific research, primarily focused on concussion. Dr. Batjer is playing a lead role in designing the research.
- The League has adopted guidelines requiring that any player who may have sustained a concussion is removed from the game or practice. He cannot return until he is cleared by both his team physician and by the team’s independent neurological consultant. Those guidelines have become the standard for athletes at all levels of play.
- This year, the League introduced a uniform Sideline Concussion Assessment Protocol to assist team physicians and trainers in their initial assessment of a head injury.
- Last year, we placed in every locker room a new Fact Sheet and poster to educate players, coaches and others at our team on concussions — what they are, what symptoms to look for, and what to do if a player suspects that he or a teammate has had a concussion. The poster and fact sheet were prepared in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control, and has been so well-received that it has now been adopted by a wide range of other sports and can be found in schools and youth programs throughout the country.
- The League has worked closely with the CDC to create the Head’s Up concussion educational materials for clinicians, parents, and coaches. These are available for free on the CDC’s website and have been viewed more than 600,000 people thus far.
- To ensure that the incidence of an injury is less likely to be missed by the sideline physicians and trainers, we added an athletic trainer to monitor games from the press box to identify potential injuries, including concussions. Further, we have installed video boards on the sidelines at every game to allow medical personnel to view the cause or “mechanism” of injury and help them make diagnostic decisions.
- The League has promoted the passage of the Zackery Lystedt law, a youth concussion law that mandates the proper protocol for treating youth concussions, in states across the country. There are now 42 states with a version of this legislation. Texas was an early leader in enacting this important protection for youth athletes.
Dr. Batjer deserves enormous credit as a physician and a scientist to advance the diagnosis, treatment and research around concussion and brain injury. As an athlete and sports enthusiast, his insightful contributions to safer sports at all levels deserves similar commendation.
Dr. Batjer and UT Southwestern’s proposal testifies to his vision for the future of this public health concern. Substantial progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries, but so much more needs to be done. Advances in understanding traumatic brain injury will lead to better diagnostic equipment and treatment protocols. Additional world class institutions dedicated to this promising area of research will speed the progress.
His leadership at UT Southwestern is certain to make that institution a national leader in injury protection, brain preservation strategies and, potentially, restoring function lost as a result of traumatic brain injury.
UT Southwestern’s three-part mission of research, education, and patient care corresponds with our efforts to promote scientific research, inform and educate the public and make sure that our players receive the best possible care when they have suffered a concussion.
Greater resources, both financial and human, addressing the unknown scientific questions around brain injury will stimulate further, faster progress. We hope that UT Southwestern, under Dr. Batjer’s strong leadership, will help lead the way.