My take on the National Football League’s safety issue

The NFL sent out this memo to its fans this morning. It’s too much to take.  Here, I dive in.

The NFL season is off to another exciting and competitive start. 

Well, not quite. The Jaguars measure as the worst team through four games in recent NFL history, and the Broncos have been so good that Yahoo! contemplated what the point-spread were to be if they were to play Alabama.  Let’s move on.

As a league, we have an unwavering commitment to player health and making our game safer at all levels.

Notice the phrase used here (“we have”) instead of the the phrase which should’ve been used but can’t be used because it’d be a lie (“we have always had”)

We hope that our commitment to safety will set an example for all sports.

Yup. Hard not to see David Stern, Bud Selig, and Gary Bettman with their notebooks and #2 pencils out, truly impressed with how the NFL has handled things.

There have been numerous safety-related rules changes going back decades: from the 1970s when we eliminated the head slap

That must’ve been a tough call. Although, to the NFL’s credit, baseball may still be having this issue. 

to the 80s when we eliminated clubbing

Pretty sure this isn’t out of the game. Just ask Jacoby Jones.

...to the 90s when we increased protection for defenseless players, to the 2000s when the horse collar tackle was made illegal.

The same 1990’s when you hired a rheumatologist to lead your concussion panel? And the same 2000s when that rheumatologist published bogus crap after bogus crap in Neurology?  Quite committed, NFL!

We will continue to find ways to protect players so they can enjoy longer careers on the field and healthier lives off the field.

Which of course is why you’re quitly pushing an 18-game schedule.

Recently, Hall of Fame coach John Madden, who co-chairs our Player Safety Advisory Committee, told me that players and coaches have truly adjusted to the new, safer rules. Coach Madden said the players are back to the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, using the shoulder rather than the head. As a result, the game is safer.

This is my favorite part. Like I read it and thought I had misread it. Who better to comment on NFL player safety than a 77 year-old who retired from the sport four years ago and probably watches a game a week from his television. Like someone in the NFL office said “you know what, we could really convince people that there’s nothing to see here if we get John Madden to say there’s nothing to see here. HE HAS A VIDEO GAME!!!”

We work closely with the NFL Players Association to ensure our players have access to the finest doctors and most cutting edge technology.

This must be a new practice. Again, the NFL investigated concussions as far back as the mid 1990’s. Unfortunately, their finest concussion doctor was a rheumatologist who was employed by an NFL organization (the Jets), and their investigation was entirely based on saving its own ass. Quoting the new book, “League of Denial,” the investigation 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.”

We have supported youth concussion laws that have now been adopted in 49 states.

Two things here. First, obviously the league is going to support youth concussion policies. Not really that incredible. Second, what one state is behind the 8-ball here?

We have pledged more than $100 million to medical research over the next decade.

You pledged money already. But the research wasn’t impartial.

Including $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for independent research to advance the understanding of concussions.

All of the money should be going to independent research, not a third of it. Also, not a great time to be citing the NIH.

We have also embarked on a $60 million partnership with GE and Under Armour to accelerate the development of advanced diagnostic tools and protective materials for head injuries.

This research endeavor is surprising, because If the NFL was that serious about its helmets, the league could start by making players wear safest ones. Instead, it doesn’t.  Quoting from the New York Times, even as head injuries have become a major concern, the N.F.L. has neither mandated nor officially recommended the helmet models that have tested as the top performers in protecting against collisions believed to be linked to concussions. Some players choose a helmet based on how it looks on television, or they simply wear the brand they have been using their whole career, even if its technology is antiquated. 

That’s amazing. Players can choose their own helmets based on how they look, not based on safety. But hey, who cares, the league outlawed clubbing in the 1980’s!  And why worry about player safety when real safety DeAngelo Hall is sporting Lacoste during an interview!

The future of football is brighter, bigger, better, and more exciting than ever.

I’m not sure. One study in the Washington Post, cited a study which found an 11 percent decline in tackle football’s “core” participation the past three years.

For more information on our health and safety work, go to www.nflevolution.com

Love this website choice. For any fans of “The Office,” this reminds me of Dunder Mifflin Infinity: take the same name as the original product, and add on a fancy word (evolution or infinity)…it’s a can’t miss!

My conclusions? The NFL is covering its own negligence. I’d just appreciate it if the league flat-out admitted that it was wrong.

Why do I seem to care so much?  Well, for starters, I played four years of college football (this is me, a few pounds ago). Across football, and not just the NFL, players just went back in after getting concussions. You were kind of essentially considered to be a frisbee player if you didn’t. And I can’t help but think that if the league had properly conducted its research when in pretended to in the 1990’s, the game wouldn’t have had to wait to 2013 to invoke the rule and safety changes necessary to the game safer.

Moreover, I love the scientific research (or lack thereof) which is intertwined in league policy. The efforts the league made in the 90’s and 2000’s were embarrassing. From a statistics standpoint, their examples of “the players went back in, so there must be no long term concussion effects” are great for showing how not to do science. Why did the players go back in? Because they thought they had to!

Further, for all researchers, the negligence shown by the journal Neurology (for more info, click on this book excerpt…but the bottom line is that the journal wanted readership so it allowed terrible research to be published) and the bias shown by the NFL’s investigators, each of whom had a vested interest in proving that concussions were not causing long-term damage, is a reminder to us all about the importance of those conflict of interest forms that keep popping up, and that the peer-review process, while important, isn’t always perfect. 

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