Report: NFL denied scientific research on concussions for two decades

October 2, 2013 – 8:56 pm by Ryan Phillips

League of Denial

According to a new book, the NFL conducted a two-decade crusade to deny scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage. The book is entitled “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth” and was written by ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.

The book reports that the NFL used it’s resources to discredit independent studies by scientists, and cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing its own flawed research. It also claims that league executives used a public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what those executives knew about the dangers of playing the game and its long-term effects.

The NFL began whitewashing the debilitating neurological effects of playing football suffered by former players under former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who retired in 2006. That strategy continued under his successor, current commissioner Roger Goodell.

The book will be released on Tuesday and compares the NFL’s two decades of denial to the actions of Big Tobacco, a group of cigarette making companies that covered up the fact that their products contained dangerous, addictive and cancer-causing chemicals.

NFL executives declined to cooperate with the authors on the book and league spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment on it Wednesday morning.

The Fainarus spent more than a year researching and writing the book, and some of the other major findings follow.

-Two original members of a concussion committee established by Tagliabue disavowed the committee’s major findings, including the NFL’s assertion that concussions were minor injuries that never led to long-term brain injury.

-As far back as 1999, the NFL’s retirement board paid more than $2 million in disability payments to former players after concluding that football gave them brain damage. But it was nearly a decade before league executives publicly acknowledged the link.

-Starting in 2000, some of the country’s top neuroscientists warned the NFL that football led to higher rates of depression, memory loss, dementia and brain damage.

-In 2005 the league tried unsuccessfully to have medical journals retract the published work of several independent concussion researchers.

-Independent researchers warned Goodell about the connection between football and brain damage in 2007, but he waited three years to publicly acknowledge the link.

-In 2009 two other independent researchers delivered more evidence that football caused brain damage during a private meeting at the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters. But the league committee’s co-chairman, Dr. Ira Casson, mocked and challenged the researchers so aggressively that he offended others who were present. Those offended included a Columbia University suicide expert and a U.S. Army colonel who directed the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

-Before an October 2009 hearing on football and brain injuries conducted by the House Judiciary Committee, the NFL lobbied unsuccessfully to prevent Goodell from testifying on the same panel as the father of a high school quarterback who had died after sustaining a concussion. The Fainarus claim this was an attempt by the NFL to regain control of the issue and contain the damage done to its brand.

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