The NFL has defended its ongoing concussion research and sold that as a promising step forward with how the league is continuing to respond to the head trauma, but it turns out the information gathered by the NFL was incredibly short on research worth using and incredibly flawed. The New York Times reports more than 100 diagnosed concussions were not included in the NFL’s collaborative data, leading to the NFL to state concussions were less common than was actually the case.
How could this happen? According to details in the New York Times report, each franchise was given the option of sharing concussion data form their own organization, and some teams chose not to report data. Among those teams not reporting significant data include the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. 49ers quarterback Steve Young was listed on weekly injury reports with a concussion in 1997 and again in 1999, however the 49ers did not report any concussion data for the NFL research between 1997 and 2000. The Cowboys did not report one concussion to the ongoing database organized by the NFL. That is startling, especially in light of franchise quarterback Troy Aikman being listed on the injury report three times with a concussion between 1997 and 2000 and once more in 1999 with a head injury. Given the recent comments from Jerry Jones about the supposed lack of known connection between CTE and football, this comes as no real shock, but it is no less stunning.
One other noticeable omission was former New York Jet Wayne Chrebet, who suffered at least two concussions during his playing days. Dr. Pellman, the Jets’ team physician, was the lead researcher and the lead author for the NFL research project. Yikes.
The NFL has suggested, or admitted, it may have missed a number of concussions due to players not reported symptoms during the research time. That is understandable and expected, as players have a different mentality and desire to remain in a game at all costs, and the ability to diagnose and recognize concussion symptoms has improved over time. Naturally, a certain number of concussions were expected to be missed. The problem for the NFL is, according to the New York Times, it is the concussions that were diagnosed that somehow were not included in the research data.
But the vast majority of omitted concussions identified by The Times were included in the N.F.L.’s public injury reports, meaning that medical staffs had made the diagnoses and reported them to the league. Some of the omitted concussions were reported by the teams to the news media after a game but do not appear on the injury reports, presumably because the player’s status for the next game was not in doubt.
Further complicating the image of the NFL’s head trauma research is the revelation there was a connection between the NFL and one of the top members of the tobacco industry’s general counsel credited for leading the charge for tobacco research.
Mr. Stevens was not just any tobacco lawyer; he was a member of the industry’s secretive Committee of Counsel, which helped direct tobacco research projects. In a letter obtained by The Times, Mr. Stevens referred Mr. Tagliabue to two court cases alleging that the tobacco and asbestos industries had covered up the health risks of their products.
Maybe it is a coincidence, or maybe the NFL was looking to get some advice on how to steer a research project in their favor. You connect the dots if you wish. But wait, there is more! The San Jose Mercury-Times also reports a total of approximately $300,000 in campaign contributions have been made from the NFL’s political action committee to 41 of 54 members of a congressional committee reviewing concussion research. Again, maybe this is a coincidence. Maybe this can be spun as the NFL looking to support those who are devoted to furthering concussion research. Or maybe there are ulterior motives. This is politics after all.
The NFL’s stance on CTE continues to be shaky and analyzed, as it should. As more information becomes available, the NFL continues to have more answers to provide for questions we didn’t know would have to be asked.