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Paula Duffy

Paula Duffy

Posted: November 3, 2009 04:03 PM

Fireworks at NFL Brain Injury Hearings on Capitol Hill

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Gay Culverhouse, former executive of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and daughter of former owner of the club, Hugh Culverhouse, says she has been told she has only six months left to live.

Alan Schwarz of The New York Times met with her prior to her appearance last Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D MI). She explained why she is trying to make a difference right now.

She suffers from blood cancer and renal failure and there is no time like the present for Culverhouse to do as she told Schwarz: "I watched our team do anything it could to get players back on the field. We have to make that right."

In her opening statement to the committee on Wednesday morning (full transcript, here), she made it clear that she was there to focus on two problems: the conflict of interest inherent in teams' medical personnel determining the readiness of players and incentive laden contracts which don't account for time off the field for injuries.

On the first point, Ms. Culverhouse said:

The team doctor's role is to find a way to have that man on the field the following game, if not the same game. ... If it is a head injury, he is told to 'shake it off'. The players get to the point that they know better than to complain that they have suffered a concussion.

And therein lies one of the big factors in preventing serious injury after a concussion.

Ms. Culverhouse talked about non-guaranteed contracts with performance bonuses that make it even less likely a player would want to remain on the sideline when injured. "The player is very aware that there is a back-up player on the bench waiting his chance to replace the starter and hold onto the position. Therefore, an injured player cannot afford to leave the field of play."

She is working as an advocate on behalf of former players she knew as a young woman and then as an executive. She was seated next to Commissioner Roger Goodell at the witness table on Wednesday and knows that she has broken ranks with her fellow owners. Her closing remarks to the committee were: "Safety must come first. Business comes second."

Needless to say, she was the most plain spoken witness in support of player safety. Presumably that happens when your time on this earth is limited. No matter why, her point of view was given great deference by Chairman Conyers. Better late than never.

 
 
 

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