Cities Journal

NFL’s Concussion Research Was As Flawed As You Expected


Last week, we wrote about the first time in history that an official of the National Football League publicly said that there is an obvious link between getting hit in the head repeatedly as a football player and developing chronic brain damage, most commonly chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

To be perfectly blunt, the official in question, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, had no other way to respond to the question in the face of ever-growing body of evidence which has proved more or less conclusively that playing football can lead to brain damage.

For the last week and a half, most of us have been wondering about the research that the League had done in the period between 1994 and 2001 and that they had used to deny any claims that football and brain damage have anything to do with one another. What was that research all about? Why was the league now all of a sudden forgetting all about it, after years of waving it in faces of anyone who dared to question the League’s handling of concussion cases and players who retired early?

Well, according to Alan Schwarz, Walt Bogdanich and Jacqueline Williams of The New York Times, the research in question was flawed form the start. We are not in possession of enough facts to say that this was done deliberately, but we are cynical enough to admit that we have a feeling this might be true.


According to story, it all began in the first half of the 1990s when a number of players started retiring early after seeing and experiencing a series of concussions that would have killed lesser men. By 1994, the league formed a committee that would spend the next 7 years studying all (or at least what everyone thought were all) the cases of concussions happening across the league. More precisely, they analyzed concussions diagnosed by NFL’s medical staff in the period between 1996 and 2001.

The final report wrote about 887 cases in all. According to the report, every single injury of the head, no matter how minor, was included in the study. In the peer-review documents, the committee claimed that all of the teams participated and that all of the NFL players were part of the study.

As it turns out, this was simply not true. Namely, the teams and the medical staff were not required to report all of the cases which lead to more than 10 percent of all head injuries going unreported. The members of the committee (or at least one of them) are claiming they did not know about the omissions. Once again, we hate to be cynical but this does not surprise us. Not when pretty much everyone on the committee was employed in one way or another by the league.

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