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League urges safety laws

WASHINGTON — The NFL wants all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass legislation that could help cut down on concussions suffered by young football players.

A quicker route would be through federal legislation, and the NFL backs a bill pending in Congress. But the GOP-led House is unlikely to support that kind of federal role in local matters, so the league sees a bigger opening at the state level.

The suicide of a former NFL player just last week highlighted the urgency of this issue.

Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, and The New York Times reported that he asked that his brain be examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head that is tied to depression, dementia and suicide.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine, which will study Duerson's brain for signs of the disease, says that more than 300 athletes, including 100 current and former NFL players, are on its brain donation registry.

The effort is part of a shift by the NFL, which for years has been on the defensive from Congress and the media about how it handled head injuries. As recently as 2009, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was grilled by lawmakers when he would not acknowledge a connection between head injuries on the football field and later brain diseases.

Goodell told lawmakers that he was "changing the culture" of football when it came to player safety, and last season, the NFL started slapping players with five-figure fines for illegal hits in an attempt to cut down on serious head injuries. Goodell says he has committed "substantial resources" to getting the youth concussion laws passed across the country, although the league said it didn't have an estimate on what the effort will cost.

The league says it has an obligation to use its clout to help cut down on concussions among America's youth. But it also wants to keep a large pool of potential players healthy.

"We're fortunate that we have more than 3.4 million young athletes playing football, and we want to continue to keep our player source strong and keep it large," said Joe Browne, a senior adviser to Goodell.

About 135,000 children between the ages of 5 and 18 are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports- or recreation-related concussions and other head injuries.


The legislation the league favors is modeled on Washington state's "Zackery Lystedt Law," named for a middle school football player who suffered brain damage in 2006 after he had a concussion and returned to the game.