NFL “debunks” player concussion studies

Seriously, this should be a bigger deal. The NFL is literally making shit up about the long-term impact of player collisions:

The N.F.L. and its doctors have consistently dismissed independent studies showing unusual cognitive decline in former players. They insist that a long-term study by the league’s committee on concussions, expected to be published in several years, will be the authoritative analysis.

But that study is fraught with statistical, systemic and conflict-of-interest problems that make it inappropriate to examine the issue, according to many experts in epidemiology, dementia and health policy who assessed the study’s design.

Previous football concussion-blogging here.

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4 thoughts on “NFL “debunks” player concussion studies

  1. Arguably, there’s a greater conflict of interest for doctors who’ve made a career identifying correlations between various sports and brain damage than there is for the NFL. Acknowledging the dangers wouldn’t substantially impact their bottom line; they’d make a few rule changes that’d reduce the concussion rate. For neurologists consulting for the NFL, it would ultimately be to their benefit to find statistically significant damage; such a finding would lead to further consulting gigs figuring out new ways to mitigate risk w/ rule and equipment changes as well as increased player screening during the season.

    A critique of the research itself is far more compelling (and obviously there’s a lot of that here and work with sports concussions has withstood the test of time). I suspect the NFL’s study is bull, but it’d be a stronger suspicion if the attacks were focused more on the message and less on the messenger.

    The cigarette analogy here is very apt; the NFL’s likely trying to avoid lawsuits over this… they’ve already tacitly accepted some degree of responsibility by enhancing programs to provide medical care to retired players.

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    • Zach –

      A couple of points :

      1) The article also mentions serious methodological questions about the study, including the number of participants involved.

      2) The NFL does have a vested financial interest in minimizing the perceived risk of head injury: the GQ article I linked to earlier seems to indicate that reducing the risk of concussion-related injuries would require a serious overhaul of the entire sport.

      3) There’s no guaranteeing that the same experts conducting studies on concussions would receive cushy consulting gigs. To date, the relationship between brain researchers and the NFL has been largely antagonistic.

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      • I generally agree with all of that. I’d just prefer they’d lead with the statistics and avoid questioning motives.

        It’s hard to think of any overhaul other than equipment changes, increased testing, increased fines for helmet-to-helmet contact, and mandatory suspensions after concussions. Doubt there will be fundamental rule changes. Look at NASCAR; Earnhart Jr. dies and they mandate a neck brace; no real effort to prevent crashes by penalizing aggressive driving significantly. It would require a huge change to reduce or eliminate instances of brains sloshing around in heads… no doubt; I only doubt that there’s a chance they’d go that far.

        The NFL looking at the impact of an NFL career on top of playing in college is interesting. I would guess someone’s more prone to lasting damage during development, and brain development continues into young adulthood. On top of that, most college and high school squads don’t have neurologists on call. They’re trying to dodge looking at the dangers associated with football in general by narrowly focusing on the NFL.

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  2. Yes, head injuries related to football are very serious. Take, for example, my brother, a lifetime Democrat who suffered a number of concussions playing high school football. I have always attributed his vote for the democracy to his head injuries.

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