It was ironic, given the views of the New York Times hugely popular columnist Frank Rich last Sunday on how the American public has been flim-flammed, misinformed and at times lied to during the decade now ending, to read a few pages later the National Football League’s spin on starting over with a new study of head injuries to its players.
Those concussion injuries, it would appear, may be creating serious neurological and mental problems for aging former NFL players and other professional athletes, now suffering Alzheimer’s, loss of memory and other forms of dementia. So serious that a dozen of them, or the families of those already dead, have donated their brains to Boston University medical school, where major research on the problem of concussion and permanent, ongoing and worsening brain damage from it is and has been underway. A hundred more football players have indicated their intentions of doing so.
That fact is not current news. It was reported in the Times 11 months ago, on Jan. 26, in a story telling about the work at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy on concussion injuries.
The NFL did little about that publicly at the time. It was busy protecting its own study on concussions, headed by Dr. Ira Casson, who for 15 years was both judge and jury for the NFL. He and his co-chairman of that NFL committee, Dr. David Viano, who consistently dismissed and denied connection between blows and brain damage, are out and gone now, both resigning after obvious conflict of interest criticism arose in Congress and media. One Congresswoman, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, said of those two studying and denying concussions as a cause of brain damage at the same time, "Hey, why don’t we let tobacco companies determine whether smoking is bad for your health or not?"
Then, on Oct. 28, the NFL had the pleasure of meeting Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, chairman of the House Judiciary committee, up close. I testified before him once, years ago, and it is a frightening assignment. He is a man-eater who loves combat. The NFL did not come off well, with little room for spinning.
Shortly after, the league announced major changes in its concussion protocol and said goodbye to doctors Casson and Viano.
But Rep. Conyers did not leave. He is back, having scheduled another Congressional hearing on the subject for Jan. 4. He says the hearing will give him and his committee "a chance to assess what improvements have been made and obtain the firsthand testimony of key experts such as Dr. Casson." Buckle your seatbelt, doctor.
The NFL’s spinmeister, Greg Aiello, last week said the old study "is on hold for now," and the NFL instead will toss money – a lot of it, at least a million bucks – into a partnership with Boston U that is long in coming. The story, unlike an earlier spread on the concussion damage splashed across the top of the Times front sports page, only made page 5. You easily could have missed it. A million bucks doesn’t buy you much these days.
In another development of interest to the good burghers of Vegas, perhaps crowded out entirely by the soaring skyscrapers and impressive architecture and décor of the highest-end, pricey shops of CityCenter, was a statement from David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association.
King David, using the magic of "maybe," told Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated, that nationally legalized betting on NBA games are "a possibility that may have a huge opportunity." When Thomsen pressed him as to whether it would be in the best interest of the NBA to seek legislation allowing such a move, Stern – who picks his words carefully – said, "It has been a matter of league policy to answer that question ‘No,’ but I think that league policy was formulated at a time when gambling was far less widespread – even legally." He said things had changed morally since he drafted that policy 40 years ago as NBA lawyer for then commissioner Walter Kennedy, and that "considering the fact that so many state governments – probably between 40 and 50 – don’t consider it immoral, I don’t think that anyone should."
Back at the NFL offices, the startling announcement that commercials on Las Vegas, long spurned, now would be welcomed on post-season NFL telecasts, including the Super Bowl.
As The World Turns – and the buck bounces – change comes upon us.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein