On Thursday morning, the New York Times published a lengthy investigative piece on what the NFL knew about the link between football and degenerative brain disease and when the NFL knew it.
In the piece, headlined “In NFL, Deeply Flawed Concussion Research and Ties to Big Tobacco,” the Times questioned the league’s reporting of concussions from 1996 until 2001 and sought to connect the dots to Big Tobacco. The Times noted that the number of concussions, including those to Steve Young and Troy Aikman, was downplayed by the league.
“If somebody made a human error or somebody assumed the data was absolutely correct and didn’t question it, well, we screwed up,” Dr. Joseph Waeckerle, a member of the NFL’s concussion committee, told the Times. “If we found it wasn’t accurate and still used it, that’s not a screw-up; that’s a lie.”
The NFL, which usually responds with a brief statement to such stories, fired back this time, issued a strong rebuttal:
Today’s New York Times story on the National Football League is contradicted by clear facts that refute both the thesis of the story and each of its allegations. As the Times itself states: “The Times has found no direct evidence that the league took its strategy from Big Tobacco.” Despite that concession, the Times published pages of innuendo and speculation for a headline with no basis in fact.
The studies that are the focus of the Times’ story used data collected between 1996-2001. They were necessarily preliminary and acknowledged that much more research was needed. Since that time, the NFL has been on the forefront of promoting and funding independent research on these complex issues. Further, the data from the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee studies have not been used in any way by the current Head, Neck and Spine Committee in its research on player health and safety. All of the current policies relating to player medical care and the treatment of concussions have been carefully developed in conjunction with independent experts on our medical committees, the NFLPA, and leading bodies such as the CDC.
Since learning of the proposed story, the NFL provided the Times with more than 50 pages of information demonstrating the facts. The Times ignored the facts. So we present them here:
The Times’ sensationalized story is further refuted by the NFL’s ongoing commitment on the issue of player health and safety – notably, to the support of research, including that of our most vocal critics, on the long-term effects of concussions in all sports, and to change our game in an effort to make the sport of football as safe as it can be. We have committed tens of millions of dollars to fund independent research, made 42 changes to our rulebook since 2002 to make the game safer, and have advanced concussion awareness and safer tackling at all levels of the sport. And we provide a host of benefit programs which, together with the proposed settlement of our players’ concussion litigation, will ensure that our retired players are properly cared for in the future.
Contact sports will never be concussion-free, but we are dedicated to caring for our players, not just throughout long careers but over the course of long lives.
That was not, though, the end of the story. The Times fired back at the NFL, oddly enough, in a series of tweets.
It was a somewhat unorthodox means of rebutting a rebuttal, but it left one thing clear: This isn’t over.