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Several retired players testified at the hearing, including former fullback Merril Hoge, who said a series of concussions cost him his career. After his first concussion, he said he never saw a neurological doctor and was cleared to play five days later.
"What happened to me would not happen in the National Football League today," Hoge said. "That does not mean we are all the way there. We are on the way."
Gay Culverhouse, former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said NFL team doctors are not advocates for the players and called for an independent neurologist to be on the sidelines.
Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said there is "growing and convincing evidence" that repetitive concussive and subconcussive hits to the head in NFL players leads to a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
"The public health risk is already here, and we cannot afford to wait any longer to make changes to the way we play sports," he said, calling for rule and technique changes.
His colleague at the center, Dr. Ann McKee, showed the committee images of brains of dead football players with CTE.
"We need to take radical steps" to change the way football is played, she said.
Dick Benson told the committee about the death of his 17-year-old son, Will, a high school quarterback in Austin, Texas, several weeks after a helmet-to-helmet hit in 2002. The following year, Benson founded the Will Benson Foundation for Sports Safety. He said the game needs to be changed to reduce physical contact, especially helmet-to-helmet contact.
"My one request is," he said, pausing to sob, "don't let it happen again."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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