It’s the book and accompanying documentary that the NFL does not want you to see. League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for the Truth, the book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, will be released next Tuesday and excerpts are being released now in the lead up. ESPN The Magazine will be one of the publications, along with Sports Illustrated, releasing excerpts, even though ESPN pulled out of the documentary based on much of the same investigation.
If you have followed along, not much is new in terms of revelations, but it will be a hit temporarily if the general public catches on. The “MBTI” (Mild Brain Traumatic Injury Committee) has been long known as a joke that was not serious about legitimate research, but rather about denying football’s role in head injuries. The name itself says it all. That committee was formed by Paul Tagliabue, and engaged in actions to try to minimize the head injury information for almost two decades, until it was finally disbanded by Roger Goodell in 2010.
That committee arose out of a roundtable session of league commissioners hosted by David Halberstram, according to this excerpt from Sports Illustrated.
After dispensing with questions about labor relations and league finances, Halberstam turned to the NFL’s growing concussion problem. Tagliabue dismissed the matter as a “pack journalism issue” and claimed that the NFL experienced “one concussion every three or four games,” which he said came out to 2.5 concussions for every “22,000 players engaged.”
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Halberstam compared the NFL commissioner with the U.S. defense secretary of the 1960s. “I feel I’m back in Vietnam hearing [Robert] McNamara give statistics,” he told the audience, which howled.
Soon after, the MBTI committee was formed to “look” at the issue. Tagliabue appointed Elliot Pellman, the New York Jets team doctor who was not a neurologist, as head of the committee. That committee would repeatedly publish research in a publication called Neurosurgery, who had an editor-in-chief who was a consultant for the New York Giants.
Among the things claimed in that research published in Neurosurgery: the NFL did not have a concussion problem and a concussion occurred once every 3 league games; boxers got brain damage but football players did not; there was no real difference between original concussions and repeat occurrences; players returning to the field a short time after a concussion were at no greater risk; and no player experienced brain damage from repeated concussions.
How much will fans care? I broke down the litigation issues in the past, and now that they appear to be mostly settled (the judge still must approve, and individuals can opt out), will it matter? When people complain about how players can sue when everyone should know that football causes brain injuries, and they assumed the risk, remember: the NFL said differently, and with lots of influence, for a long time.