Skip to content

The ‘Concussion’ Effect? Congress to Probe Head Injuries

Clemens testified about steroid use in Major League Baseball in 2008, and spent years waging a legal battle over that testimony. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Clemens testified about steroid use in Major League Baseball in 2008, and spent years waging a legal battle over that testimony. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“Concussion,” the eagerly awaited feature film about a doctor who takes on the NFL to warn about the neurological dangers of America’s most popular sport, will be released on Christmas Day.  

The Oscar-bait movie, starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is being released just three days after the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced it would initiate a wide-ranging investigation into concussions when Congress returns in January. “We often hear about concussions in the context of service members and athletes, but this problem goes well beyond the battlefield and the gridiron. It’s a matter of public health as these injuries are prevalent in all ages and across the population. Unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t know about head trauma — how it effects different subsets of the population, the short and long term effects, and other details critical to developing effective diagnostics and treatments,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement Tuesday announcing his panel’s intentions.  

Congress frequently flexes its investigative arm into the realm of sports when scandal strikes or the issue becomes big enough it can’t be ignored any longer. Eight years ago this month, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, delivered a scathing report on steroid use in Major League Baseball to the sport’s commissioner.  

Mitchell named names, among them some of baseball’s biggest stars, such as Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Several of them were hauled before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the following year.  

Their testimony helped solidify popular perceptions that steroids had tainted the pastime. None of the players implicated by Mitchell and who appeared before the committee, although their career numbers would likely merit it, have been inducted into the sport’s hall of fame.  

Clemens was indicted in 2010 on perjury charges stemming from his statements to Congress denying allegations of taking performance-enhancing drugs. He was acquitted in 2012, but his image was damaged by the fight.  

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s announcement states it will be casting wide net, “following years of uncertainty surrounding the causes, effects, and treatments of concussions,” and three subcommittees — Oversight and Investigations, Health and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade — will split the review.  

The committee’s statement makes it clear the probe isn’t just about the NFL, but will also look at concussions stemming from combat and other causes.  

But considering how big a platform the “Concussion” movie is about to get and how much its mega-star Smith is able to shape pop culture, expect a fair amount of discussion inside and out of the committee to revolve around the multi-billion dollar sports industry and what it knew when.  


NEW! Download the Roll Call app for the best coverage of people, politics and personalities of Capitol Hill.

Recent Stories

Vance delivers populist message as he accepts VP nomination

Vance’s ascension solidifies isolationist faction of GOP

Biden tests positive for COVID, cancels event

Vance quietly tried to shape public health agenda in Congress

Schiff urging Biden to quit race shows issue is not going away

Fact-checking Day 2 of the Republican National Convention