NFL Aggressively Defends Concussion Research, Claims NYT Printed "Speculation"
The NFL on Thursday sent teams a 651-word letter responding to the N.Y. Times report that found concussion research conducted by the NFL was far more flawed than previously known, reiterating the league's earlier and lengthier statement that called the piece ill-founded and sensational. Sent from Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart and Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash, the letter said that it is true as the article reported some concussions were left out of a study covering '96-'01, but that the NFL never claimed otherwise. The letter also attacked the NYT for trying to link the NFL to tobacco lobbyists, saying the examples offered by the newspaper fell apart upon closer examination. The letter states, "We will continue to press both the Times and other media outlets to print facts, not innuendo and speculation. Today's piece, unfortunately, is very much on the latter side of that line" (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). In Toronto, John Kryk notes what "appeared to have particularly incensed" Lockhart about the report is that the NFL provided the Times' three-person investigative team "with '50 pages' of information that, the league claims, refutes every accusation, and yet almost none of it appeared in the story" (TORONTO SUN, 3/25). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the league could simply be "frustrated by constantly being under assault for its handling of the concussion situation." It also may realize "tales of potentially falsified research can catch the eye of a prosecutor looking to launch a political career by putting the NFL's pelt on the wall." Whatever the reason, league execs "surely realize that few if any football fans will be reading and heeding the many words that have been strung together in an effort to push back against any article to which the NFL arguably has given far more credence by responding to it so aggressively" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 3/24).
NEGLIGENCE, IF TRUE: In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes if the Times report is right, then "we are talking here about a level of sloppiness, and even negligence, on the part of the league as breathtaking as the denial that still occurs in it with some of its owners." The question that "needs to be asked now" is if the information had "been more accurate than it was more than a decade ago, what would players and ex-players have done with that information?" Lupica: "How vigilant would it have made them about the damage their own sport had done to them, and the consequences of that damage?" This is not about all the steps the NFL has "taken over the past several years to protect player safety, and the money it has paid out to settle lawsuits by ex-players." This is about what the people "running the league really knew about concussions, and when they knew it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/25). ESPN’s Jim Trotter said “without question” there has not been total transparency from the NFL. He said the league omitting tests in their research “raises the suspicion that you saw the information, didn't like it and so withheld it to reduce the percentage of frequencies that we saw of concussions” (“NFL Insiders,” ESPN, 3/24).
SIGN OF THE TIMES: BOSTON.com's Eric Wilbur said it is "becoming harder and harder to cheer" for the NFL, as Goodell is either “delusional or clueless or both” about public sentiment towards the way the league has handled the head trauma issue. He added, "The backroom dealing that the NFL is basically built on is all coming more and more and more to light." Wilbur: “Just the whole way the league is run, with back rubbing and sliding some bills into other people’s hands, is kind of gross and it’s getting grosser and grosser.” Wilbur brought up the NFL-N.Y. Times dispute and said, "It’s one of the bastions of journalism in America. The NFL has knowingly lied to you time and time again. Who are you going to believe?” (“Wake Up With Wilbur,” BOSTON.com, 3/25). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said he does not “believe a word of the NFL’s commissioned research” into the effects of head trauma. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said it is "reasonable for me to conclude that the NFL would take research and pass it off as something that wasn’t true” ("PTI," ESPN, 3/24).
IMPACT ON CONCUSSION SETTLEMENT? In N.Y., Red & Vinton report at least one attorney believes that Thursday's report "should invalidate" the NFL's $765M concussion settlement with a group of former players. The settlement "currently awaits approval from a federal appeals court." N.Y.-based attorney Michael Kaplan said the Times' report "adds more evidence to establish the false and misleading conduct on the part of the NFL to hide the risk of brain injury to their players." However, Chicago-based attorney Thomas Demetrio, who represents the family of late NFLer Dave Duerson, said that the report "was irrelevant to the settlement deliberations" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/25).
SOWING THE SEED: Concussion Legacy Foundation Exec Dir Chris Nowinski on Thursday accused the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell of "deliberately sending mixed signals on the dangers of football." In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib notes while NFL Senior VP/Health & Safety Policy Jeff Miller last week acknowledged a link between CTE and playing football, both Goodell and Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones "sidestepped the issue" during this week's NFL owners' meeting. Nowinski: "I couldn't imagine a more unethical behavior in the sports world. ... I don't know if they know where they stand. In the big picture, it should be irrelevant what Roger Goodell or Jerry Jones thinks about the link." He added, "In the big picture this is nothing more than a 'Big Tobacco, sowing a seed of doubt' game plan that only serves to confuse the public" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/25). In Dallas, Kevin Sherrington writes Jones stubbornly "insists we don't have enough science, medicine is evolving, lots of people play football and nothing bad happens to them." Sherrington: "Sounds less like a man interested in research than one protecting his bottom line, doesn't it?" It is Jones' "money," and he is "doing everything he can to keep it." If that "means contradicting concessions from his own industry with his typical brand of convoluted conversation, so be it" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/25).