According to an article recently published in The New York Times, research papers created by the NFL in an attempt to downplay the dangers of head injuries from football relied on flawed analysis. Confidential data acquired by The Times reveals that evidence of more than 100 diagnosed concussions were mysteriously omitted from the NFL’s reports, thereby basing its findings on an incomplete set of data and skewing the results to make football concussions appear far more infrequent than their actual numbers.
Some of the omitted concussions included serious and well-publicized injuries to star quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Steve Young. In fact, not a single concussion from the Dallas Cowboys over the course of six seasons was included in the research. According to Dr. Robert Cantu, a peer reviewer who has publicly criticized the league’s research, “It should be an unmistakable red flag that a team does not report any concussions over multiple years.”
The NFL has strongly stood by the findings in these papers for nearly 13 years, claiming that the research accurately represented the numbers of concussions diagnosed by team doctors from 1996 to 2001. The papers were published by a committee created by the NFL in 1994 amidst the spike in early-retiring football players over fears of the long-term effects of head injuries. The committee created 13 different peer-reviewed research articles that have been touted by the NFL as scientific evidence debunking the rumors that the NFL caused harm to its players.
In 2013, the league was ordered to pay a whopping $765 million settlement to retired players who alleged the NFL attempted to hide evidence of the risks of brain injuries. Several players involved in this lawsuit have since attempted to appeal the settlement in an attempt to reexamine the committee’s potentially flawed research.
The NFL vs Big Tobacco
Many have drawn comparisons of the NFL’s strategy to that of the tobacco industry, which was well-known for using debatable scientific research to contradict evidence of the negative effects of smoking. While no evidence has been found thus far to indicate the NFL adopted its strategy from Big Tobacco, the similarities between these two businesses regarding the health risks of their products are quite interesting. Both the NFL and the tobacco industry have used the same lawyers, consultants, and lobbyists for advice, with records showing that their connection was supported by personal correspondence and several dinner invitations.
In one case, Giants co-owner Preston R. Tisch also partly owned Lorillard, a leading cigarette company and served as a board member of both the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute – both entities which played a part in using creative science to hide the dangers of smoking. Research shows that in 1992, Mr. Tisch asked Lorillard’s general counsel, Arthur J. Stevens, to consult with the then league commissioner about certain legal issues.
Stevens, a high-powered tobacco lawyer, referred the commissioner to two separate court cases that alleged that both the asbestos and tobacco industries had covered up evidence of the health hazards of their products. While it remains unclear why a tobacco attorney would refer cases of this type to the NFL, the connection appears to be more than a coincidence.
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