Katherine Brearley will never know for sure why her 21-year-old son, Owen Thomas, hung himself in April. She does know his autopsy revealed the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy on his brain, a degenerative disease caused by repeated head trauma.
Thomas played football at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and never complained of having a concussion, Brearley told the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee today. His mother assumes he wouldn’t have admitted having one, for fear of being made to sit out by coaches.
The committee was convened by chairman George Miller, a California Democrat, to discuss legislation he introduced yesterday that would require students suspected of having concussions sit out sports that day and be evaluated by a health professional. Students recovering from a concussion also must have access to special-education services.
“The attribution of bravery to this issue is tragically misdirected and it will require a cultural shift,” Stanley Herring, a member of the National Football League’s head, neck and spine committee, said during the hearing.
Any movement on the bill would not occur until after mid-term elections in November at the earliest, Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for Miller, said in an e-mail. Along with Miller, the bill is co-sponsored by 10 members of Congress, including Timothy Bishop, a New York Democrat.
In an attempt to change the culture, every school would have to put up posters on managing concussions under the bill, a plan similar to one the NFL implemented for its players.
Goodell Supports Bill
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote Miller yesterday to support the bill. Goodell wrote that the league worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop concussion education posters targeting youngsters that will be up on the agency’s website for free.
Herring, who also is the team physician for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, said the NFL has raised awareness of concussions and now behavior must be shifted so players will begin reporting symptoms.
“I think a lot of people think it’s a badge of honor to play through a concussion,” Sean Morey, executive board member of the NFL Players Association, the union for the league, said in testimony before the panel.
Alison Conca-Cheng, an Ellicott City, Maryland, high school senior, suffered a concussion last month while playing soccer on her school team. She told the committee she now takes breaks in the nurse’s office during the school day and 10-minute breaks every half hour while doing homework to ease her headaches.
Worsening of Symptoms
Current Children’s National Medical Center research found 90 percent of students reporting “significant worsening of post-concussion symptoms when they attempt school tasks,” Gerard Gioia, chief of the division of pediatric neuropsychology at the center in Washington, D.C., told the committee.
The symptoms persisted “well beyond a month for many students” and most schools were not prepared to support them. The center treated more than 1,000 children in its concussion clinics in the last year.