When I read the headline in today’s New York Times, “In N.F.L., Deeply Flawed Concussion Research and Ties to Big Tobacco," I thought, “c’mon, that’s gotta be a stretch.”
Don't get me wrong. I get “deeply flawed research.” Every big industry publishes that. Look at asbestos. Or the auto industry. Or the auto and asbestos industries. Or the pharmaceutical industry. But linking football to tobacco, which the World Health Organization calls “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing around 6 million people a year,” and which can’t stop lying about it? Didn't see that coming.
The New York Times has indeed published an enormous investigation into the concussion research that the N.F.L. has used for 13 years. The league said this research “was based on a full accounting of all concussions diagnosed by team physicians from 1996 through 2001.”
[M]ore than 100 diagnosed concussions were omitted from the studies — including some severe injuries to stars like quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman. The [NFL] committee then calculated the rates of concussions using the incomplete data, making them appear less frequent than they actually were.…
These discoveries raise new questions about the validity of the committee’s findings, published in 13 peer-reviewed articles and held up by the league as scientific evidence that brain injuries did not cause long-term harm to its players. It is also unclear why the omissions went unchallenged by league officials, by the epidemiologist whose job it was to ensure accurate data collection and by the editor of the medical journal that published the studies.…
The N.F.L.’s concussion studies have faced questions since they were published, but even the league’s harshest critics have never suggested, and no evidence has ever arisen, that the underlying data set could be so faulty.
“One of the rules of science is that you need to have impeccable data collection procedures,” said Bill Barr, a neuropsychologist who once worked for the Jets and who has in the past criticized the committee’s work.
By excluding so many concussions, Mr. Barr said, “You’re not doing science here; you are putting forth some idea that you already have.”
Horrible, perhaps not completely shocking, but guess where they learned to lie and cover up like that? All this time, they were “shar[ing] lobbyists, lawyers and consultants” with Big Tobacco. Writes the Times,
Personal correspondence underscored their friendships, including dinner invitations and a request for lobbying advice.
In 1997, to provide legal oversight for the committee, the league assigned Dorothy C. Mitchell, a young lawyer who had earlier defended the Tobacco Institute, the industry trade group. She had earned the institute’s “highest praise” for her work.
A co-owner of the Giants, Preston R. Tisch, also partly owned a leading cigarette company, Lorillard, and was a board member of both the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research, two entities that played a central role in misusing science to hide the risks of cigarettes.
And that’s not all.
In 1992, amid rising concerns about concussions, Mr. Tisch — the Giants and Lorillard part owner — asked the cigarette company’s general counsel, Arthur J. Stevens, to contact the N.F.L. commissioner at the time, Mr. Tagliabue, about certain legal issues.
Mr. Stevens was not just any tobacco lawyer; he was a member of the industry’s secretive Committee of Counsel, which helped direct tobacco research projects. In a letter obtained by The Times, Mr. Stevens referred Mr. Tagliabue to two court cases alleging that the tobacco and asbestos industries had covered up the health risks of their products.
It keeps going.
Before joining the N.F.L., Ms. Mitchell, a young Harvard Law School graduate, had been one of five lawyers at Covington & Burling who had provided either lobbying help or legal representation to both the N.F.L. and the tobacco industry, sometimes in the same year. Mr. Tagliabue had been a partner at the firm before becoming the N.F.L.’s commissioner.
(Covington & Burling also happens to be a principal architect of the “tort reform” movement on behalf of Big Tobacco.) And there’s more. "On at least two occasions in the 1970s and 1980s, the N.F.L. hired a company whose client list included the Tobacco Institute to study player injuries."
Read the article for the full outrage. You really can’t make this stuff up.