A new report from the New York Times is another hit to the NFL's credibility when it comes to their concussion research. The NFL had a concussion committee conduct extensive research into concussions suffered from 1996 to 2001. The committee emphasized the completeness of the research, but the Times has found this to be significantly inaccurate.
According to the report, the NFL's data suggested the San Francisco 49ers had no concussions on their roster between 1997 and 2000. It also says the Dallas Cowboys had no concussions the entire length of the study. That seems reasonable. Steve Young and Troy Aikman definitely did not suffer any concussions during those periods. And Steve Young's career definitely did not end due to a concussion or anything like that. Glad we cleared it up!
The NFL has had quite the week when it comes to the issue of concussions. NFL Senior VP for health and safety Jeff Miller was involved in a roundtable discussion about concussions before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee. He was asked about a link between football and CTE, and he said "the answer to that is certainly yes." It caught people off guard because the NFL has seemingly distanced itself from the connection.
And shortly after, the NFL did just that again. Owners Jerry Jones and Robert McNair both tried to deny that there was a connection, with Jones saying:
"No, that's absurd. There's no data that in any way creates a knowledge. There's no way that you could have made a comment that there is an association and some type of assertion. In most things, you have to back it up by studies. And in this particular case, we all know how medicine is. Medicine is evolving."
It's about time for another physical for me, so I'm thinking I'll give Dr. Jones a call.
On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about the various comments related to CTE, and he had this to say (emphasis mine)
The most important thing for us is to support the medical and scientists to determine what those connections are. We think the statements that have been made through Jeff Miller and others have been consistent with our position over the years. We've actually funded those studies, so we're not only aware of those, we recognize them and we support those studies. A lot of the research is still in its infancy, but we're trying to find ways to accelerate that, and that's part of what we're doing in investing in additional research this week. But we're also not waiting for the research. We're going out and making the changes to our game. We're making changes to our rules, which you've heard about today. We made changes in 2011 that affected the way we train our athletes. Several coaches and I had conversations today about how it's changing the way they're teaching the techniques that are used on the field and in training. All very positive changes. You've also seen a lot of the changes we've made in equipment, and there are more to come. There are changes to the fields, changes with helmets â some of you may have been able to see the tech lab today with the VICIS helmet out there. So there's exciting technological changes that are going to make our game safer, and we're advancing that, we're driving that. And so our view is to try to continue to do that. We'll support science and medicine and allow them to make those decisions, and try to see what we can do to support that and advance that."
Funding research brings us back to the New York Times report. It would seem the league is doing a better job of getting more independent research, but it's hard to take the league seriously given how the concussion committee handled the study back in the early 2000s. These kinds of studies need to be meticulous. Yes, mistakes happen, but the report suggests that at least 10 percent of head injuries diagnosed by team doctors were missing from the study. And given what we've heard in the past about how team doctors handled head injuries, I'm guessing the NFL's request for any "head injury, no matter how minor" is just fluff.
The San Jose Mercury News had its own exclusive report Wednesday evening. One of their reporters found that the NFL's political action committee had given nearly $300,000 total to 41 of the 54 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Committee covers a broad array of issues, so we don't know if the donations were specifically meant to influence the committee's recent concussion research. But given the NFL's misleading behavior over the last 20 years, it's hard to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The NFL claims the potential for mistakes, but how can anyone take a committee report seriously that overlooks some high profile concussions? The New York Times report goes into more detail on players and injuries absent, but when career-ending injuries to some of the most famous players in the game are not included, it's hard to take anything they have to say seriously.
The NFL has a lot to figure out with the concussion issue. I get that there is a need to know what you're getting into, and a certain measure of personal responsibility. But when the NFL is acting like Big Tobacco in their studies, and even in their associations with notable figures from the tobacco industry, it is time to take a step back and re-assess the situation.
Of course, I'll continue watching football, as will most of us. Dan Levy made a good point after the Times report came out. I imagine the NFL is avoiding admitting anything significant until the concussion lawsuit is settled. There are numerous issues with the lawsuit that have yet to be settled, and so, the NFL will continue pretending it has been on the up and up with this issue.