Report: NFL’s concussion research was based on bad data

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The NFL engaged in a shameful downplaying of the link between concussions and long-term health problems within the confines of the work of the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee.

But here’s the disturbing new chapter, as presented by the New York Times. Research conducted by the NFL based on concussions diagnosed between 1996 and 2001 omitted more than 100 concussions.

“If somebody made a human error or somebody assumed the data was absolutely correct and didn’t question it, well, we screwed up,” Committee member Dr. Joseph Waeckerle told the Times. “If we found it wasn’t accurate and still used it, that’s not a screw-up; that’s a lie.”

It’s hardly a surprise that the “nothing to see here” attitude of the NFL manifested itself through a potentially deliberate effort to not see the full extent of the problem. But the disclosure that numbers were fudged regarding such an important matter of public concern is the kind of thing that could get a federal prosecutor interested in exploring whether and to what extent laws were broken by the manner in which the NFL conducted its research.

Apart from any potential criminal consequences, the disclosure could kick the door open for more civil liability. Coincidentally or not (bet the not), the report comes at a time when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is considering a challenge by a group of retired players to the 2013 concussion settlement. Evidence that would tend to make the case stronger than it previously was believed to be could result in the settlement being scrapped.

Instead of focusing entirely on the idea that the NFL may have deliberately omitted concussion data from its concussion research, the Times article spends way too much time linking the NFL to the tobacco industry, pointing out ties between pro football and Big Tobacco. While I’m far from qualified to give editorial advice to the New York Times (then again, lack of qualifications has never stopped me in the past), it would have made more sense to treat that as a separate topic entirely.

The focus for now should be on the NFL failing to properly account for all concussions during the period in question, and also on the one dynamic that continues to be ignored by those who are throwing darts (and rightfully so) at the NFL: The role of the NFL Players Association under the late Gene Upshaw in aiding, abetting, and/or outright committing the very same misconduct in which the league has been accused of engaging.

“For far too long, our former players were left adrift,” current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in 2009, his first year on the job, at a Congressional hearing. “We were complicit in the lack of leadership and accountability, but that ends now. I am here again to make it clear that our commitment is unwavering.”

While the commitment may be unwavering under Smith, the notion that both management and labor possibly were working to conceal facts from the rank and file suggests that far more work needs to be done to get to the whole truth, whether through the civil justice system, the criminal justice system, journalism, or some combination of the three.

27 responses to “Report: NFL’s concussion research was based on bad data

  1. They manipulate concussion data, lie about what Ray Rice told Goodell in his meeting & steal $120 million from the players. But they’re telling the truth about Deflategate, right?

  2. This is similar to the falsified data that the ignorant anti vaxxers use to justify the danger they pose to society by not vaccinating their kids.

    If this was deliberate, then it’s more similar to the deliberate manipulation oil and gas companies use to claim that climate change doesn’t exist and exploited by opportunistic politicians.

  3. Lawyers continue to try to destroy everything in the name of money. They have no shame. We need to hold lawyers accountable for shame suits. The NFL gave a very generous settlement to the retired players. But greedy lawyers have created these greedy client into thinking they can get more. We really need to put time limits on civil suits to 5 years.

  4. Can we please just get rid of the entire NFL front office and start over. I thought we were at a tipping point during the Ray Rice investigation when Goodell was caught lying and now every time the NFL touches anything they botch it completely. We as fans have to take a stand at some point because it’s obvious no one else is going to. Now it’s starting to become criminal. Something need to be done and done asap cause this sport we all love is going to be destroyed sooner than later.

  5. Geeze….if they profited off of that, by players continuing to take the field long after they had sustained massive amount of trauma, would those players have recourse for a NEW lawsuit? That’s insane

  6. Are you telling me that the NFL lied?

    The NFL deliberately omitted information that hurt their narrative?

    The NFL used data that they knew was faulty and false?

    NE will probably lose 2 more draft picks over this!

  7. I’m supposed to believe that a multibillion dollar business would be less than truthful in a report where they researched a topic that could be potentially harmful to that business?

    I don’t know, guys. If you can’t trust businessmen, who can you trust?

  8. This is your NFL people

    Goodell has lied, defrauded, and refused to take any responsibility for any screw up or shady dealing that he’s overseen. It took 10 years to acknowledge even the slightest link between football and CTE. And they still fudged the true numbers. Sound familiar? After he’s seen how far he can push the boundary in the Deflategate mess he knows nothing he does will ever be called into question. He stood on that podium and LIED to every one’s face but he was going after the Patriots so nobody cared, they even encouraged it. Now he knows he can lie whenever it suits him, fudge numbers and leak falsehoods to further which ever commentary he wants, and dispense whatever kind of “justice” he sees fit.

    This is your guy people, your champion, and he isn’t going anywhere….

  9. “to what extent laws were broken by the manner in which the NFL conducted its research.”

    I wasnt aware there were laws dictating the manner in which research can be conducted.

    There are various laws regarding samples, tissue rights, medical rights, treatment of subjects etc.

    There is no overwatch of Empirical Research Methods that can dictate how research is conducted. It there was such a body, they would be coming down really hard on the CTE crowd.

  10. National Fudging League
    They also omitted the Colts deflated balls from the Deflategate investigation. The NFL routinely lies. Where’s the outrage?

  11. Stop me if you’ve heard this before
    1) NFL falsifying/twisting numbers and words in a report
    2) NFL has a predetermined narrative
    3) NFL denies twisting numbers
    4) NFL says oops when it’s caught in a lie.


  12. For the safety of it’s employees the league should move it’s offices out of 345 Park Ave. With all the things that go missing from there never to be seen again there must be some sort of inter dimensional rift that inexplicably opens there from time to time. It’s been known to swallow everything from videos to the sound of testimony to $110M and now apparently medical reports. It’s only a matter of time before it sucks in not just someone’s integrity but their body as well.

  13. Fact #1 – The NFL report on “The Strange Case of the Deflated Balls” was 243 pages long.

    Fact #2 – The NFL report on the concussion problems of former players was more than 200 pages shorter.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  14. steelerben says:

    I don’t know, guys. If you can’t trust businessmen, who can you trust?

    Well it seems you guys trust the New York Times. Why that is even you don’t know.

  15. They were proven to be lying about concussions for decades why is this even a surprise? A more shocking article would be Roger Goodell telling the truth about something if he’s willing to lie about the Ray Rice incident, Deflategate, and Bountygate what makes you think he’d tell the truth now? Him and the members of the front office need to go asap.

  16. This is why no headshots anymore guys and grills. No more spinal injuries; no more brain bruises. No more hip, and knee shredding chop blocks. The future is Cyberball! Woo!

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