NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would not acknowledge a connection between head injuries on the football field and later brain diseases while defending the league’s policies on concussions before Congress on Wednesday.
Under sometimes-contentious questioning from lawmakers – and suggestions about reconsidering the league’s lucrative antitrust exemption – Goodell sat at a witness table in Washington, D.C., alongside NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith.
Both men agreed to turn over players’ medical records to the House Judiciary Committee.
Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., asked Goodell whether he thinks there’s an injury-disease link. Goodell responded that the NFL isn’t waiting for that debate to play out and is taking steps to make the game safer.
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“I just asked you a simple question. What is the answer?” persisted Conyers.
Goodell replied by saying a medical expert could give a better answer than he could.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., whose husband, Sidney Williams, played linebacker for the Browns, Redskins, Colts and Steelers from 1964-69, asked Goodell how the league was addressing the welfare of retired players during current collective bargaining negotiations with the union.
Goodell said that it’s a “priority for the owners and players to take better care of our retired players,” but Waters cut him off, demanding specifics.
“We’ve heard from the NFL time and time again – you’re always ’studying,’ you’re always ‘trying,’ you’re ‘hopeful,’ ” Waters said, pointing a finger in Goodell’s direction. “I want to know what are you doing ... to deal with this problems and other problems related to injuries?”
When Goodell said that talks between owners and players are in the early stages, Waters said it’s time “for Congress to take a look at your antitrust exemption” and that she thinks it should be removed.
A 1961 law grants professional sports leagues antitrust exemption for broadcasting. That has allowed the NFL to sign TV contracts totaling billions of dollars on behalf of all its teams.