Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mr. Goodell Goes to Washington

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled health care debate and partisan bickering to bring you an odd sports update. That's right, the worlds of politics and sports merged briefly on Wednesday, thanks to a hearing conducted by the House Judiciary Committee looking into a correlation between head injuries in football and mental disorders later in life.

This will probably be the only time this blog ever links you to ESPN.

The NFL recently commissioned a report that suggested a link between football-related head injuries -- like concussions -- and future dementia and even Alzheimer's disease. Though the report suggested such a link, neither NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith were willing to admit as such.

Let's face facts; the only way to completely prevent injuries in football is to get rid of the sport entirely. Football is inherently a violent game, which is a large part of the game's appeal. There's a reason the NFL and college football are so popular, and I'm venturing to guess it has a lot to do with the hitting.

I'm generally weary of Congress getting involved in sports matters; I thought the Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball in 2003 were a waste of time. I've thought the same thing in recent months whenever Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has asked for Congressional hearings regarding the legality and fairness of the way college football crowns its national champion.

At first, I felt the same way about this hearing. But when Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) began questioning Goodell on the NFL's actions regarding the league's retired players -- many of whom are broke, destitute and/or battling severe health problems -- I saw where the connection was. The league runs a pension program for retired players, a program that, largely, has failed over the years.

Congresswoman Waters, who is married to a former NFL player, chided Goodell for his generalities (something I wish more sports writers would do) and threatened to take away the league's anti-trust exemption if action wasn't taken.

The NFL isn't exempt under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, like the health insurance companies and Major League Baseball. Sports leagues are exempt under a 1961 law for the purposes of broadcasting. The NFL has raked in billions of dollars over the last two decades in television broadcasting deals, thanks in large part to its anti-trust exemption.

With the kind of money the NFL is raking in -- even in this tough economy -- it's only fair for Congress to keep an eye on its practices and consider taking away that anti-trust exemption if the league doesn't shape up when it comes to the health and financial well-being of its players ... current and former.

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