The New York Times had the latest story that brings attention back to the NFL’s mistakes. The Times said that the league’s concussion committee omitted more than 100 diagnosed concussions in its research, which it published and cited as scientific evidence that concussions didn’t cause long-term harm. The committee said its study was based “on a full accounting of all concussions diagnosed by team physicians from 1996 through 2001,” The Times said. But the 100 omitted concussions were more than 10 percent of the total, the Times said.

The Times’ review showed that even high-profile concussions like career-ending ones to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman weren’t included in the research, which makes the data incomplete and flawed. The NFL told the Times the missing data was not done intentionally “to alter or suppress the rate of concussions,” but intentional or not, without all of the data it appeared that concussions happened less frequently than they actually did.

“If somebody made a human error or somebody assumed the data was absolutely correct and didn’t question it, well, we screwed up,” Dr. Joseph Waeckerle, a member of the NFL’s concussion committee, told The Times. “If we found it wasn’t accurate and still used it, that’s not a screw-up; that’s a lie.”

Here was the NFL’s response to the incomplete data:

“The Times claims that the concussion studies funded in part by NFL Charities purposely relied on faulty and incomplete concussion data. In fact, the MTBI studies published by the MTBI Committee are clear that the data set had limitations. Moreover, they expressly state that they were based on a data set that drew from two separate sources – the NFL injury surveillance system that collected simple data regarding concussions, and a set of forms that the teams were asked to provide to the League that provided additional factual detail about each such concussion. The studies never claimed to be based on every concussion that was reported or that occurred. Moreover, the fact that not all concussions were reported is consistent with the fact that reporting was strongly encouraged by the League but not mandated, as documents provided to the Times showed.”

The Times report said the committee stressed in its published papers that all teams and players were included, though the NFL told The Times that teams were not required to participate. And many of the omitted cases were easy to spot, like Young and Aikman. Some concussions that weren’t included in the research were on the public injury reports at the time. New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet had two concussions that weren’t in the study; committee chairman Dr. Elliot Pellman was the Jets’ physician then and was the lead author on all of the committee’s published papers, The Times said.

The NFL’s flawed data wasn’t the only revelation in the New York Times piece. The Times also reported that the NFL and the tobacco industry “shared lobbyists, lawyers and consultants,” though the NFL vehemently denied any connection to the tobacco industry.

Here’s how the NFL led off its press release regarding the New York Times’ story:

“Today’s New York Times story on the National Football League is contradicted by clear facts that refute both the thesis of the story and each of its allegations. As the Times itself states: ‘The Times has found no direct evidence that the league took its strategy from Big Tobacco.’ Despite that concession, the Times published pages of innuendo and speculation for a headline with no basis in fact.”

The NFL’s statement refutes many specific points The Times brought up, including denying the league “ever solicited, reviewed, or relied on any advice from anyone” at Lorillard (a cigarette company partially owned by late New York Giants co-owner Preston R. Tisch) or the Tobacco Institute “regarding health issues.” The league’s release also said the NFL never was involved “in any joint lobbying efforts with the Tobacco Institute.”

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports wrote a piece in which many medical professionals questioned the link between the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, now commonly known as CTE, and football. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones questioned the link between CTE and football as well this week (he later clarified that he feels more data is needed) and was roundly criticized for it.

The issue is evolving and complex, but at just about every turn it’s clear that the NFL made some major missteps when it comes to the concussion issue.

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