NFL STATEMENT ON NEW YORK TIMES STORY
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 studies that are the focus of the Times’ story used data collected between
1996-2001. They were necessarily preliminary and acknowledged that much more
research was needed. Since that time, the NFL has been on the forefront of
promoting and funding independent research on these complex issues. Further, the
data from the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee studies have not
been used in any way by the current Head, Neck and Spine Committee in its
research on player health and safety. All of the current policies relating to
player medical care and the treatment of concussions have been carefully
developed in conjunction with independent experts on our medical committees,
the NFLPA, and leading bodies such as the CDC.
Since learning of the proposed story,
the NFL provided the Times with
more than 50 pages of information demonstrating the facts. The Times ignored the facts. So we present
them below and also click here for additional details in a response by Joe Lockhart, NFL Executive Vice President—Communications::
- 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 story claims that the League relied
on legal advice from Lorillard and the Tobacco Institute. In fact, neither then-NFL
Commissioner, Mr. Tagliabue, the League nor its counsel ever solicited,
reviewed, or relied on any advice from anyone at Lorillard or the Tobacco
Institute regarding health issues.
- The Times
implies that there was a nefarious relationship between Joe Browne and Sam
Chilcote. In fact, Joe Browne (then NFL SVP of Communications) built a personal
relationship with Sam Chilcote while Mr. Chilcote was at the Distilled Spirits
Council in the 1970s. The NFL and the Distilled Spirits Council jointly
produced Public Service Announcements, and Mr. Browne and Mr. Chilcote were the
point people for their respective organizations. Details of that work can be
found on the DISCUS
website. Mr. Browne and Mr. Chilcote remained friendly after Mr. Chilcote
left DISCUS for the Tobacco Institute in 1981. Mr. Browne contacted Mr.
Chilcote in 1982 for some advice as someone he knew in Washington, DC about a
subject completely unrelated to tobacco, concussions, or any player-related or
medical issue. We have seen no evidence – from the Times or otherwise – that demonstrated their relationship had
anything to do with tobacco or NFL health and safety.
- The Times
insinuates that the NFL hired Dorothy Mitchell, an associate at the law
firm Covington & Burling, because of her experience in tobacco litigation.
Ms. Mitchell, who had represented the NFL in employment litigation, sought an
in-house job with the NFL and was hired as a labor lawyer to handle Collective
Bargaining Agreement (CBA) related grievances. She later served as a legal
liaison with the MTBI Committee, and her role in that capacity was to prepare
grant documents, provide intellectual property advice, ensure the privacy of
player information, and communicate with the players’ union. Her experience as
a young lawyer working on a tobacco case (among many other cases) was entirely
unknown to the NFL personnel who hired and supervised her, as well as to
members of the MTBI Committee, until they learned of this proposed story.
- The Times
asserts a connection between the League and the Tobacco Institute because both
hired the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). SRI’s blue chip client list
includes multiple U.S. government agencies, such as the Army Research Lab, the
Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense, the Department of Education
(including a study highlighted in the New York Times in 2009), the Department
of Health & Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, and the
State Department, as well as prominent associations and foundations including
the Alzheimer’s Association, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. In fact, one of the
research studies the Times alludes to
was jointly commissioned by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. There is
no evidence that SRI engaged in misleading or inappropriate research.
- And finally, the story says that the NFL
shared lobbyists with the Tobacco Institute. In fact, the League has never
participated – either through its counsel of over 50 years, Covington &
Burling, or otherwise – in any joint lobbying efforts with the Tobacco
sensationalized story is further refuted by the NFL’s ongoing commitment on the
issue of player health and safety – notably, to the support of research,
including that of our most vocal critics, on the long-term effects of
concussions in all sports, and to change our game in an effort to make the
sport of football as safe as it can be. We have committed tens of millions of
dollars to fund independent research, made 42 changes to our rulebook since
2002 to make the game safer, and have advanced concussion awareness and safer
tackling at all levels of the sport. And we provide a host of benefit programs
which, together with the proposed settlement of our players’ concussion
litigation, will ensure that our retired players are properly cared for in the
sports will never be concussion-free, but we are dedicated to caring for our
players, not just throughout long careers but over the course of long lives.