Archive for June 6th, 2011

More Words From a Defender of Alan Schwarz of The New York Times

On May 27, Jean Rickerson posted a comment rebutting my criticism of Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. Today she has a letter to the editor at Beyond Chron in response to my article there (and now on this blog, as well), “How The New York Times Is Fumbling the National Sports Concussion Crisis.”

Rickerson is the founder and editor of a website, According to the site, it “was created to help educate coaches, parents, and athletes about the dangers of concussions and the importance of proper management. Founder Jean Rickerson’s son sustained a concussion playing high school football in 2008 and as his four-month-long journey to recovery unfolded, she realized how pervasive the lack of education was. Initially intending to educate his football team, as the stories began flowing in, the magnitude of the problem became very evident. The staff at is dedicated to raising awareness about sports-related concussions by providing free training for coaches, speaking to parents and athletes, and arranging community workshops with concussion experts.”

Here’s the full text of Rickerson’s Beyond Chron letter:

Your continual criticism of Alan Schwarz and the New York Times indicates to me that you don’t see the big picture. If one steps away from the oft-cited politics and looks at the positive changes that have filtered down to the youth level as a result of Mr. Schwarz’s work, you might feel differently. No one else has competently challenged the status quo like he has and I know many parents who are grateful for his voice. Concussions are a very complex issue and so are the politics. Perhaps concentrating on results rather than criticizing the messenger would serve your audience better. As for ImPACT, there’s much more to that story as well. Your simplistic approach leaves much to be desired.

Rickerson’s sincerity is not questioned, and her loyalty to Schwarz, who has indeed been instrumental in elevating the concussion debate, is admirable. Her logic here, however, is wanting. By “concentrating on results,” as she puts it, I have questioned, with so far unchallenged legitimacy, The Times’ soft coverage of the commercial and often mendacious historical role of Dr. Joseph Maroon. I also have reproduced a significant chunk of the experts’ current discussions, absent in The Times, about whether Maroon’s ImPACT concussion management software is anywhere near as effective as the general public presumes.

TOMORROW ON THIS BLOG: I ask the sports editor of The New York Times what are the “reasons,” alluded to by Alan Schwarz, that Dr. Maroon has not been subjected to more critical and sharper coverage.

Irv Muchnick

My Weird 1988 Conversation With Then WWE Lobbyist and Now Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum

In 1988 I wrote an article for The Washington Monthly titled “The (Thwak!) Deregulation of (Thump!) Pro Wrestling.” It would become a chapter of my 2007 book Wrestling Babylon. The piece was republished at this blog at

Rick Santorum — who today announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination — was not named in that story, but at the time he was working as a World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) lobbyist out of the Pittsburgh office of Jerry McDevitt’s law firm, then known as Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.

Santorum contacted me by phone shortly after the Washington Monthly article was published in the spring of ’88. He wanted to tell me how funny he thought it was. I have a vivid memory of his reading lines back to me and laughing uproariously. As we conversed, he was listening in the background to live radio reports about the demise of some Pennsylvania politician in an ethics scandal; at one point he shushed me so we could listen together to the latest development in that case.  Santorum couldn’t contain his mirth about that, either. He was obviously high on something – politico adrenaline, I suppose.

Irv Muchnick



* “Senate Candidate Linda McMahon, Former Senator Rick Santorum, and Pro Wrestling Deregulation,” December 9, 2009,

* “No WWE Lobbying? Why, Rick Santorum Handled the Account!”, April 8, 2010,

* “In Pennsylvania, Wrestling Deregulation Is Tied Up With Another Small Piece of Linda McMahon Baggage: Obstruction of Justice,” October 21, 2010,

‘How The New York Times Is Fumbling the National Sports Concussion Scandal’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published 6/3/11 at]


How The New York Times Is Fumbling the National Sports Concussion Scandal

by Irvin Muchnick

In a January New Yorker article on the concussion crisis in football, writer Ben McGrath quoted Pittsburgh neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon speaking admiringly of Alan Schwarz, the New York Times reporter who created this beat and more recently was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Schwarz, said Dr. Maroon, is “the Socratic gadfly in this whole mix.”

Unlike Socrates, however, Schwarz asks questions that are carefully and corporately adumbrated. The resultant national spirit of cautious inquiry into a stunningly broad public health story is being driven by our Newspaper of Record. This process has the effect of protecting powerful and moneyed interests.

As the game is currently being played, the final score will be some combination of Ivy League-style reforms of football safety and rules, in a sequel to President Teddy Roosevelt’s campaign in the early 20th century, along with federal investigations scapegoating helmet manufacturers – all while letting the $9-billion-a-year National Football League off the hook for a scandal of near-tobacco industry proportions.

I don’t think anyone from the Riddell helmet company is going to jail after Congress, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission are finished probing how the company ran hard and fast with ambiguous data from a safety study underwritten by the NFL. Nor do I think anyone should, based on what we so far know, despite the Purple Heart that Schwarz awarded himself last week in a bush league email complaint about my blog’s coverage: “I kill myself for six months to expose a serious safety problem – and even conspiracy – in youth football, cause sweeping changes (some about to be announced) and investigations by the CPSC and the FTC …”

(For my full exchange with Schwarz, go to

Schwarz, who used to write books analyzing baseball stats, is in his element when he verbally slaps around the leadership of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. He is obviously less comfortable confronting figures like Dr. Maroon, a team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers who remains, inexplicably, a quotable authority even though he is facemask-deep in the concussion scandal. For years, Maroon has conducted book-cooking, NFL-friendly, “peer-reviewed” research boosting the for-profit ImPACT concussion management software system developed by his team at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Maroon is also the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment, a huckster for at least two supplement companies, and a serial liar in the concussion narrative. In 2005, after Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered the second Steelers case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in his autopsy of Terry Long, who had committed suicide, Maroon stated categorically that there was no record of Long’s ever having had a concussion while with the team. Omalu soon produced a 1987 letter by Maroon proving the contrary.

It would behoove the most celebrated concussion reporter in American journalism to press Maroon for better answers. Instead, Schwarz has allowed Maroon to distance himself from the NFL’s Riddell helmet study, which the doctor co-authored with, among others, the company’s chief engineer, and which Riddell then exploited in its promotion.

Ah, but Maroon is not an issue, Schwarz asserted to me – “for reasons of which you are totally unaware.” If that’s true, then this titan of communications needs to do some more communicating.

One upshot of Schwarz’s incomplete coverage is that ImPACT has been purchased by an estimated 10 to 15 percent of high school football programs across the country, often under the mandates of new state “safety” legislation. I believe that, rather than shifting the NFL’s public-health tab to already financially beleaguered school districts, we should be talking seriously, not as a throwaway line, about whether high school football is medically, legally, and educationally sustainable.

Somehow The Times has not seen fit to print the devastating critique of ImPACT by Christopher Randolph, a neurology professor at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports. (Credit for first publicizing Randolph’s work goes to blogger Matt Chaney, author of the excellent but little-known book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football.)

Randolph wrote: “There is no evidence to suggest that the use of baseline testing alters any risk from sport-related concussion, nor is there even a good rationale as to how such tests might influence outcome.” He added that independent studies of ImPACT show a level of reliability “far too low to be useful for individual decision making.” In sum, youth sports programs using it are investing in a false sense of security.

And what, I ask Alan Schwarz and The New York Times, would Socrates have to say about that?

Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, is working on a book about concussions.

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June 2011