In Praise of Alan Schwarz and The New York Times … And On to the Work of the NFL Concussion Committee’s New Co-Chairs

Let’s move beyond my criticism of Alan Schwarz and The New York Times. I want to impress upon everyone not just that the Gray Lady recently has fumbled the ball in the red zone, but also how to regain the lost momentum of its generally excellent coverage of the concussion crisis prior to this year.

The Times website’s March 13, 2010, interactive timeline, “The N.F.L.’s Embattled Concussions Panel,” with references dating back to 1994, remains a great historical resource. I urge everyone to read it and follow the linked articles, at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/03/17/sports/football/20100317_CONCUSSION_TIMELINE.html?ref=football.

Several things have gone wrong since then, in my view, beginning with the subtle co-optation of Schwarz, an inexperienced investigative reporter, which has paralleled that of his friend Chris Nowinski. It is hard to hear people nominating you for a Pulitzer Prize in Schwarz’s case, or to find yourself brokering a $1 million National Football League grant in Nowinski’s case, and retain your outsider’s edge. Someone whom The New Yorker quotes corrupt NFL doctor Joseph Maroon calling “the Socratic gadfly” of concussion discussion is receiving accolades with strings: he also is being unofficially appointed the amanuensis of the ruling class.

Add to all this last fall’s loss of Democratic control of the House of Representatives, whose Judiciary Committee had conducted the most penetrating public hearings drawing the parallel between the NFL and the tobacco industry, and you have a recipe for tepid and hyped measures like helmet reform, along with acquiescence in spurious and cost-shifting post-concussion “management.”

I am not the only observer who, in his own mind, damns The Times with such faint praise. I am just one of the few doing so out loud.

Coincident with The Times’ squishy coverage of the last year has been the NFL’s appointment of new co-chairs of its concussion policy committee. What have Dr. H. Hunt Batjer and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen accomplished so far? I’ll discuss that in upcoming posts.

 

Irv Muchnick

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