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NFL names new co-chairs of head, neck & spine medical committee

  • By National Football League
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Dr. Hunt Batjer of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Dr. Richard G. Ellenbogen of the University of Washington School of Medicine have been named the new co-chairs of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee, commissioner Roger Goodell announced Tuesday.

Drs. Batjer and Ellenbogen are each the professor and chairman of the department of neurological surgery at their respective medical schools.

Commissioner Goodell also announced that Dr. Mitchell Beger, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, has also agreed to serve on the committee (formerly known as the NFL Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee).

"In our ongoing commitment to the health, safety and well-being of our players, we conducted an extensive search to find the new leaders of our committee and we are extremely pleased that Dr. Batjer and Dr. Ellenbogen have agreed to lead the team," Goodell said. “Along with Dr. Berger, these doctors are renowned experts in the field of head and spine injury and they will strengthen our leadership role in research, education, prevention, and treatment of these injuries in sports. I personally interviewed all three doctors and was enormously impressed by their knowledge, experience, and passion for working with us.”

Drs. Batjer and Ellenbogen will be responsible for appointing other members of the committee.

The mission of the NFL HNS Committee is multi-faceted:

» Ensure that NFL team medical staffs have access to the best technology and research on the prevention and treatment of head, neck and spine injuries.

» Study injury data and equipment research to assist the NFL, its teams and its players in providing the safest environment for minimizing injuries to the head, neck and spine.

» Examine the latest treatment strategies and recommend to club medical staffs and players the best practices regarding treatment of injuries to the head, neck and spine.

» Join with the NFL Alumni Association to expand on existing programs such as the 88 Plan and support additional research on the long-term impact of concussions and related injuries.

» Encourage and support research and education to increase public awareness about head, neck and spine injuries, their prevention and treatment.

Dr. Batjer is the Michael J. Marchese professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He is past president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and Society of University Neurosurgeons, and past chair of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. He is currently vice president of the Neurosurgical Society of America.

Dr. Batjer joined Northwestern in 1995 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he was professor of neurological surgery and was twice voted outstanding teacher. He attended the University of Texas on a baseball scholarship and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as a left-handed pitcher. He is a graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

"I am deeply honored to have been selected for this important role by commissioner Goodell," Dr. Batjer said. "I take this responsibility very seriously and find it a great fit joining my passions for neuroscience and athletics. The players -– past, present and future –- and the public can be assured that our committee will be vigilant in working to make the game safer through injury prevention, education, treatment, and advocacy."

Dr. Ellenbogen is a UW Medicine professor and Theodore S. Roberts Endowed Chair of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine, chief of neurological surgery at Harborview Medical Center, and attending neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s. He is past president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and currently an officer with the American Society of Pediatric Neurological Surgeons. He is also co-director of the Seattle Sports Concussion Program and a key advocate for the "Zackery Lystedt Law," the first state law requiring medical clearance for a young athlete suffering a concussion. He was formerly chief of neurosurgery and residency program director at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was deployed with the XVIII Airborne Corp in Desert Storm and was awarded a Bronze Star for his work with head injured soldiers.

Dr. Ellenbogen is a graduate of Brown University, the Brown University Medical School, and was trained in neurosurgery at the Brigham/Boston Children’s/Harvard Medical School program.

"I am humbled and honored to be participating in a program by the NFL that recognizes the widespread problem of concussion, which occurs in a wide spectrum of our population, from student-athletes to soldiers to professional athletes," Dr. Ellenbogen said. "I hope through our actions, research and advocacy, we can improve the prevention and treatment of this public health issue for athletes in all sports and at all levels of play."

Dr. Berger is a graduate of Harvard and the University of Miami School of Medicine. He was a high school football All-American at Coral Gables High School in Miami, an All-East and All-Ivy League defensive end at Harvard, and was signed by the Chicago Bears in 1974 as a free-agent rookie.

"I am honored to serve the commissioner, the NFL, and its players on this important committee," Dr. Berger said. "My number one goal is to make the game safer at every level and to ensure that the players will have a healthy future after they finish playing."

In January, the NFL announced two other new members of the committee –- Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist at the University of Michigan and chairman of the sports section of the American Academy of Neurology, and former NFL player Merril Hoge, who testified at a congressional hearing on concussions in October and has followed the issue closely after retiring from the NFL due to post-concussion syndrome.

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