For years, the NFL has defended itself against critics warning about the neurological dangers of football by pointing to a handful of studies performed by its own concussion committee in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Those studies found that the risk of concussion in the game was not as scary as critics argued. Those studies were also deeply flawed and excluded many of the concussions that players suffered in the time period studied, according to a revealing report from the New York Times.
“One of the rules of science is that you need to have impeccable data collection procedures,” neuropsychologist Bill Barr told the Times. “You’re not doing science here; you are putting forth some idea that you already have.”
The main problem with the 13 peer-reviewed studies is that they were based on an incomplete data set. The Times found that at least 10 percent of concussions diagnosed from 1996 to 2001, the period in question, were not counted. When the NFL was confronted with this, it denied that teams were mandated to report all concussions, despite language in the studies that states precisely the opposite.
One sign of bad data is the number of Dallas Cowboys included—none! Clearly, the Cowboys were not reporting their concussions. We know this because Troy Aikman suffered at least four in the six season span. The Cowboys' non-participation is hardly a surprise, given the science denying egoism of owner Jerry Jones.
What is a surprise is that these studies were published despite the flaws, allowing the NFL to hold them up as proof that football is not as harmful as it really is. But the Times has a suggestion for how that happened: The NFL was getting tips from its truth-twisting friends in the tobacco industry.
Clearly the studies belong in the trash heap, along with all of the NFL's claims based on them. As one member of the league's concussion committee told the Times, the missing data represents either a "screw up" or an outright "lie." And at this point, those two things are all we've come to expect from the NFL.