In 2009, the NFL began a testing program of football helmets and concussions, but the testing was so corrupt (“poor methodologies” and “inherent conflict of interest” that were “not acceptable by any modern standards”) that all members of research group ultimately resigned “after strong criticism of their conduct from the House Judiciary Committee and outside medical experts.”
A new research committee was appointed and in June, two prominent neurosurgeons who chair it, “accused a fellow doctor of minimizing solid evidence of the dangers of football concussions” and “concurred that data collected by the N.F.L.’s former brain-injury leadership was ‘infected.’” They made “clear they planned to chart a new course.” Specifically, “The doctors said the old committee’s ongoing studies on helmets and retired players’ cognitive decline …would not be used in any way moving forward.”
But Friday, they went forward with it anyway, releasing these infected data, and claiming that based on them, “3 of 16 helmet models — two by Riddell, an official league licensee, and one by Schutt — had performed best in testing” yet insisting that these data "cannot be extrapolated to collegiate, high school or youth football.”
But as the New York Times reports, “the public designation of three helmets as 'top performing' in tests thought to simulate only the highest 1 percent of forces to cause concussions, at a time when football head injuries are national news, led critics to fear that the safety of the nation’s four million youth football players would be compromised.”
“I believe that the document is accurate and that every word in it is true, but they imply something to the lay reader — namely that these top-performing helmets are safer against concussion,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a senior adviser to the N.F.L. committee and director of the Neurological Sports Injury Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Dave Pear played in the NFL for six years as a defensive tackle between 1975 and 1980. He broke his neck while playing and is facing hip replacement surgery in the very near future. Commentator Evan Weiner interviewed Pear recently:
“It is recognized that helmets designed to work at high-impact forces, while efficient at protecting against skull fracture, are not necessarily effective at protecting against concussion,” Dr. Cantu added. “The danger in making this public is that even though it’s not stated, some people can infer and imply from this statement that the so-called top-performing helmets are safer.
“I fear that it will be used to market helmets to youth players. In reality, they may be more unsafe for the lower forces known to cause concussions, primarily in youth football.”
"What they have done is create a myth," said Pear. "They have misled these young men telling them to be tough and work through injuries. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL guarantee disability, pensions and medical their career. They (the NFL and the NFLPA) have convinced us that we do not deserve it. They have not allowed us access to our benefits which is not right and that has hurt players and players' families." …
Pear is of the opinion that Congress, a class action suit by former players and chipping away at the NFL's image are three areas where the retired players can make the most strides.
The class action suit demanding compensation for injuries would need a law firm with deep pockets willing to take on the NFL and would require players to step up and talk about their problems. It might be easier to find a law firm than getting macho tough guys to go public. There is still a stigma attached even in retirement for players who don't toe the company line.
Let's hope a trial lawyer is paying attention.