Two weeks ago, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s player safety point man, was forced to admit in a fiery congressional session that there is a connection between football and neurodegenerative diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This came only days before The New York Times published an article showing that more than 100 diagnosed concussions were withheld from NFL public reports, as were many severe injuries, highlighting just how little the league ever cared about protecting players.
When confronted about the data omissions, one member of the concussion committee, Dr. Joseph Waeckerle, told the NYT, “If somebody made a human error or somebody assumed the data was absolutely correct and didn’t question it, well, we screwed up. If we found it wasn’t accurate and still used it, that’s not a screw-up; that’s a lie.”
It seems that is exactly what it was—13 years’ worth of lies.
The withheld data and congressional admission come in direct conflict with what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dr. Mitch Berger, a San Francisco-based neurosurgeon who leads the NFL subcommittee on long-term brain injury, said on February 3, as lead-in to the Super Bowl in San Francisco. It also goes against comments made by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last week when he downplayed neuroscience literature looking at the long-term impact of brain injury.
Yet this should come as no surprise from Jones if one looks into the database the NYT obtained from the NFL, as it lists zero Dallas Cowboy players over the 13 years. This speaks to the blatant omissions in the data when one recalls that Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman retired from the NFL after admitting to four concussions during that same time period.
As the press and health policymakers begin to force the NFL’s hand in addressing this issue, there was also a blow to football fans nationwide when they learned of the death of former NFL fullback Kevin Turner after his six-year battle with ALS—a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The tragic death of the 46-year-old is the latest in a string of deaths in former players under the age of 60, many of whom suffered from neurological abnormalities in the years before their deaths.
While no immediate repercussions have come from state or the federal government, more congressional hearings are in the works for later this year, addressing brain health and sports. However, for the moment, the NFL has a bigger concern. While it should be player safety, it will certainly be PR. And it should be, because the lies are finally catching up to the NFL.