A New York Times article hit the National Football League hard on Thursday, calling into question the validity of its early concussion studies and suggesting a link to the tobacco industry.
The NFL responded with its own 1,000-plus-word statement defending itself.
"Today’s New York Times story on the National Football League is contradicted by clear facts that refute both the thesis of the story and each of its allegations," the NFL said in the statement, released early in the afternoon.
It listed and attempted to refute most of the main points in the Times article, clearly asserting, "The Times ignored the facts."
The NYT article focused on early concussion studies by the NFL and its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. The league acknowledged in the statement that this study had limitations but pointed to its research and safety changes made over the years. It also went into detail defending the history of its former employees and its research and lobbying initiatives.
The league has long been accused of shunting the connection between concussions caused by collisions and long-term brain damage, such as the degenerative brain disorder Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. Last week, however, an NFL executive acknowledged the link between the two for the first time.
The league’s statement concluded that "contact sports will never be concussion-free," but reiterated its dedication to player health and safety, even after they’ve left football.
The Times ran the lengthy expos on Thursday morning citing confidential information to make its case that the league omitted dozens of concussions from early studies on the subject, including injuries suffered by star quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman. It also noted that the NFL did not require every team to submit data.
The report also linked the NFL’s handling of the concussion issue to the tobacco industry’s countering of safety concerns about its products, pointing out several links between Big Tobacco and professional football. The league countered those assertions in several bullet points in the statement.
In January, the NFL named former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart to its top communications position, reporting to COO Tod Leiweke. He replaced Paul Hicks, who stepped down last September. It also promoted Cynthia Hogan to EVP of public policy and government affairs at that time.