In Damage Control Mode, NFL Shied From Its Own Brain Research

by

In 2009, a leaked NFL research study seemed to mark a game-changer in the debate around football’s concussion crisis. Former players, the research found, suffered from memory-related diseases at a rate that was 19 times higher than the general population.

The study went to the heart of the question of prevalence — how many former players were suffering? And the fact that it was commissioned by the NFL only added to its significance.

“It was the people who the league hired to find out the answers to these questions, giving them the answers,” Alan Schwarz of The New York Times told FRONTLINE. Schwarz was given a copy of the study at a Manhattan steak house. “It was very deep throat,” he said. “You knew that this was going to be big.”

There was one problem: The league was backing away from the findings. In a message to Schwarz, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the study had shortcomings, noting that “there are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems.”

The story sparked national attention. Within weeks, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was testifying on Capitol Hill. With the league’s concussion stance under intense public scrutiny, lawmakers were comparing the NFL to Big Tobacco.

Suddenly, the league was in damage control. It shook up its concussion committee, introduced new rules geared at player safety and donated $1 million to Boston University for brain research. As you’ll see in the following scene from League of Denial: Inside the NFL’s Concussion Crisis, the effort ended with a surprise acknowledgment from what Schwarz described as an “annoyed” Greg Aiello:

In the film, which premieres tonight beginning at 9 pm EST, FRONTLINE investigates the hidden story of the NFL’s response to head injuries. Through interviews with former players, scientists and other experts on the concussion issue, it examines what the NFL knew about the risks of such injuries, and when it knew it.

You can find out when League of Denial airs on your local PBS station here.

blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS
Frontline Journalism Fund

Supporting Investigative Reporting

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, The Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.
PBSCPBMacArthur FoundationPark FoundationFord Foundationwyncote

FRONTLINE   Watch FRONTLINE   About FRONTLINE   Contact FRONTLINE
Privacy Policy   Journalistic Guidelines   PBS Privacy Policy   PBS Terms of Use   Corporate Sponsorship
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.