Kudos to Commissioner Goodell and the NFL for putting in place the right people to allow science to trump politics with respect to the issue of the long-term dangers from concussions. Prominent neurosurgeons, H. Hunt Batjer, M.D. and Richard G. Ellenbogen, M.D., became co-chairmen of the NFL concussion committee in March. They are already rocking the boat on the eve of an NFL-sponsored symposium on concussion in Washington held by Johns Hopkins. They accused a fellow doctor, Constantine Lyketsos, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins who is directing Wednesday’s symposium, of minimizing solid evidence of the dangers of football concussions. They also agreed that data collected by the NFL’s former brain injury leadership was "infected" and that the committee should be re-assembled. And, they formally requested that the committee’s former chairman, Elliot Pellman, M.D., not spead at the symposium. Dr. Pellman was the chair of the concussion committee from 1994 to 2007 and stayed on it until he resigned in March 2010. he remains the NFL’s medical director and helped with the symposium’s logistics.
The two new co-chairs criticized Johns Hopkins’s promotional brochure for Wednesday’s conference — which was open only to N.F.L. medical personnel, other doctors and members of the United States Department of Defense — for playing down existing evidence of brain damage in retired football players.
The opening paragraph described the disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy as “now being reported in football players, although with unknown frequency.” It added that these and related matters had been reported by the news media “with considerable hype around assertions of long-term harm to players from head injuries.”
Batjer and Ellenbogen said that the frequency of reports of C.T.E. in players is not unknown — a Boston University research group has diagnosed it in all 12 former college and N.F.L. players of various ages it had tested for the condition. “They aren’t assertions or hype — they are facts,” said Ellenbogen, the chief of neurological surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, who has been instrumental in drafting legislation to protect young athletes from head injuries.
Dr. Lyketsos of Johns Hopkins, who wrote the brochure for the symposium, defended his choice of words, saying, "there is a concern that I have that the possibility of serious long-term consequences ae being overempasized without clear evidence. It could turn out correct. It could turn out incorrect. We don’t know." Dr. Ellenbogen countered, “Doctors were relatively ineffectual for 25 years on this issue. Then it’s on the front page and everything focuses like a laser beam and things begin to change from baby steps to giant steps forward protecting kids. From a doctor-patient perspective, it’s been the single best thing that has happened to this subject.” Which approach sounds like putting patient health first?
This is a stark change from the approach taken by the former leaders of the concussion committee, who generally agreed with Lyketsos and eventually incurred the wrath of Congress. The NFL seems to be backing its new co-chairs. It gave $1million to support the Boston University research group which Lyketsos challenged, and, yesterday, an e-mail to conference organizers stated that Dr. Pellman would not attend the symposium for family-related reasons. Dr. Batjer made it clear that neither he nor Dr. Ellenbogen believed that Pellman should be allowed to give the appearance that he represented the NFL in a leadership role. "It’s about a complete severance from all prior relationships from that committee, " he added.