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July 23, 2013

NFL injury risk has Hall-of-Fame dad concerned for rookie son

(Continued)

David Hemenway, a professor of the Harvard School of Public Health, observes that public attention is a critical factor in forcing industries to make workplace reforms — the 16 million strong weekly NFL audience will be much more conscious of Kyle Long's health than it was of Howie's. "Twenty years ago this was happening, and it just wasn't in the news," Hemenway said. "Now people are talking about it, and because of that there is real pressure to do something."

Pressure from Capitol Hill, however, has lessened with a change in leadership; the House Judiciary Committee is no longer led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who drove the 2009 hearings. "I think clearly if there was involvement by Congress, that would hasten any additional changes," Sanchez said. "I think having access to a platform to discuss the issue and making other people aware of it does move things along more quickly than if we leave the NFL to their own devices."

That the NFL is conscious of congressional oversight can be seen in its increased lobbying expenditures, which have tripled since Goodell became commissioner in 2006 to $1.14 million in 2012. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NFL's Gridiron Political Action Committee spent $854,462 last year on issues ranging from its antitrust exemption to broadcasting laws, but health and safety was a significant focus. A Post survey of public records shows team owners and their families have additionally contributed nearly $2 million to congressional campaigns in the past five years.

Two beneficiaries of NFL money are the two congressmen who succeeded Conyers as House Judiciary chair — and who've kept the NFL off the committee's docket. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, have each pocketed $15,000 from the NFL. Smith rejected two requests by Sanchez that new hearings be convened, and Goodlatte, the current chair, is on record saying Congress shouldn't play "armchair quarterback" in NFL matters.

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