Congress Tackles Concussions

It’s not the first time the issue of head trauma has wound up on Capitol Hill. What could make this round different?

Ann Heisenfelt / AP

Just a few days before Will Smith’s Concussion hits theaters, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that it would take a deep dive into head injuries in 2016.

While the hearings—the combined effort of three Energy and Commerce subcommittees—will deal with head issues affecting athletes and the military, the scope won’t exclude any kind of head trauma. “It’s a matter of public health,” said chair Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, in a release. “Thanks to increased public awareness in recent years, there are promising efforts underway to increase our understanding of these injuries, but we still have a long way to go.”

The National Football League backed out of one of those efforts, according to an ESPN report Tuesday morning. (The NFL disputes the claims.) The NFL was underwriting a $16 million, seven-year study at Boston University that looked at the relationship between football and brain disease; on the news release announcing the study, the university only listed the National Institutes of Health as paying for the study.

This isn’t the first time Congress has held hearings on head trauma. A 2009 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee saw the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, take the hot seat—and led to some policy changes in the league.  Energy and Commerce held sports-safety hearings in March 2014. But the problems haven’t gone away. Maybe this time, with a box-office boost, there’s enough public attention to see more real change.