Opinion: Columnists

Hugh Hewitt: Politicians rush in

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With the Super Bowl behind us, football fans turn next to the NFL's Scouting Combine, or to reports of recruiting success coming out of Columbus, Ohio, or South Bend, Ind. (the only two such cities that really matter).

There's a third venue they should be watching as well: Congress. Ready or not, the folks from the government are here to "help" the game.

Full disclosure: My law firm represents some companies in the sporting goods industry, and my partner Gary Wolensky is one of the country's legal experts on concussions and other head traumas, whether received in sports, car crashes or any other situation involving trauma. He reads the studies and talks to the researchers. He's been on my radio show to discuss various concussion-related controversies and cases numerous times over the years.

He knows what he's talking about, except when it comes to the Eagles. So does the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, whose annual meeting I have attended for many years. The companies attending are run by professionals hyperconcerned with the health of the athletes who use their products.

SFIA is, for example, one of the moving forces behind PhitAmerica.org, the first comprehensive effort to take on childhood obesity through exercise and sport.

The entire industry is aware of and working hard on making sure that child safety in all sports -- not just football -- is the first priority.

Which is why the Youth Sports Concussion Act -- a draft bill introduced by Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia -- couldn't have arrived at a worse time. Now an entire industry will have to allocate time and effort to making sure the Congress doesn't screw up the excellent work already being done.

"We will see what the actual piece of legislation says when it is published," Wolensky told me when I asked about the new proposal. "However, when Congress meddles in an area such as child safety, the act is usually poorly thought out and results in massive collateral damage."

That is what has happened before. Recall the "lead in toys" scare of a few years back? Congress, led that time by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which proved to be an utter disaster for all except lawyers and regulators. Billions in existing inventory was rendered illegal overnight and some small companies were destroyed, even as children's safety did not improve. The cost in jobs and economic growth was enormous. Lousy legislation destroys jobs and does not increase safety.

Now come a couple of headline-seeking senators, and they are urged on by a president who, with an offhand comment, may have stopped thousands of boys from playing a wonderful game under the supervision of great coaches with terrific impacts on their lives. Some of them will no doubt stay home on couches playing video games and getting fat. Congress rarely looks at secondary effects of its laws, just the vote-getting effect.

Of course, the president didn't tell parents that concussions occur often and in many sports, or that medical science is working closely with manufacturing to improve, to the extent humanly possible, all the equipment used in all American sports. Plaintiffs' lawyers provide motivation even to the mythical profits-only business types, but the reality is that the people making the products love the athletes and games and want them to be safe and fun.

Whatever an interfering Congress comes up with, it will be bad for those games, the kids and the businesses, a legislative mixture of publicity seeking and amateur-hour Monday morning quarterbacking. Expect some high-level endorsements from folks like the NFL, seeking cover from controversies like the Junior Seau tragedy. But the bottom line is that Congress cannot help here, but only cause harm.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.

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