New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz, May 27: “As far as I know your concern with the coverage stems only from your Maroon-connection-to-Riddell-study issue. [I know that is not an issue] for reasons of which you are totally unaware …”
New York Times columnist George Vecsey, June 14: “the NYT has led that story for three years. what are you talking about?”
We all realize that The New York Times is the worldwide leader in worldwide leadering. But on the story of the pandemic of traumatic brain injuries in sports and entertainment, exactly where is The Times trying to lead us?
An examination of the Newspaper of Record’s coverage over the last six months suggests that the answer is it is leading us to a world made safe for the National Football League and its $9-plus billion in annual revenues.
Pay plenty of lip service to the alleged mental health toll for the thousands upon thousands of professional and amateur athletes employed by the NFL or in its orbit – but also make sure all the opinion-making honor and commercial benefits are reaped by the very league-connected doctors whose corrupt research and false public statements brought us to this pass.
Last December 8 The Times led a story headlined “N.F.L. Invites Helmet Safety Ideas” with these words: “With the federal government, state legislatures and football helmets’ regulatory body already focusing on concussions and head protection, perhaps the most influential group of all — the N.F.L. — convened its own summit of experts Wednesday to discuss possible reforms.”
Try to imagine a Times story in the 1960s, subsequent to the surgeon general’s report on the dangers of cigarettes, with a lead characterizing the Tobacco Institute as “perhaps the most influential group of all.”
One of the NFL’s “summit of experts” – quoted in paragraph 3 of the Times account with the searing insight “there’s still more questions than answers” – was Dr. Joseph Maroon of the Pittsburgh Steelers medical team and the league’s concussion policy committee, as well as World Wrestling Entertainment. (The WWE line in Maroon’s resume is scrubbed in Times coverage.)
There are already plenty of answers about Maroon himself, one of the root liars of the concussion saga. The first cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, discovered by a then little-known deputy medical examiner in Pittsburgh named Bennet Omalu, were in Steelers players, including Terry Long. As this blog (citing Chris Nowinski’s book Head Games), has reported, Maroon attacked the “fallacious reasoning” of Omalu’s research and added, “I was the team neurosurgeon during Long’s entire tenure with the Steelers, and I still am. I re-checked my records; there was not one cerebral concussion documented in him during those entire seven years.”
But there was such documentation: a letter by Maroon himself.
Yet The Times continues to inflict unfiltered Maroon on the concussion education of its readers. Most recently, Maroon, who says he welcomes the federal investigation of his NFL-funded safety study of Riddell football helmets, has been given Times news real estate for the lame explanation that he studied good but Riddell promoted bad.
As for Dr. Omalu, he has not appeared even one time this year in print editions of The Times. On February 26, The Times did run a blog item by Toni Monkovic, which allowed that Omalu once upon a time “figured prominently” in a breakthrough finding of brain damage in NFL players. Monkovic also quoted author-blogger Matt Chaney’s report on Omalu’s call to sideline all concussed athletes for three months.
In lieu of conducting this threshold debate in print, however, The Times has chosen to go yawn and on about football helmets and neurocognitive testing. The latter is a field that Maroon and his University of Pittsburgh Medical Center colleagues, with their NFL affiliation, dominate via their for-profit concussion management software, ImPACT, which is making new inroads at the high school level thanks to state football safety legislation. This despite a substantial body of research – also unreported in The Times – arguing that neurocognitive testing in general, and ImPACT in particular, are at best ineffective.
And it’s not as if Omalu hasn’t been heard from lately in the CTE field: After several years of effective exile from the pages of the NFL-doctor-controlled journal Neurosurgery, he returned there under new management with a recent major article.
There’s no new management at the National Football League itself. For The New York Times and reporter Alan Schwarz (whom The New Yorker quotes the corrupt Dr. Maroon praising), that seems to be what counts most.