New York Times Out-Insults the NFL — And Changes Nothing in the National Football Debate With Its Equivocal, High-Level Coverage

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March 31, 2016

by Irvin Muchnick

 

 

Everyone is cheering on the New York Times. And hey, I am, too. Anything that puts the National Football League on its heels is a good day’s work.

But enough with the cable news-worthy dueling letters between the Times’ high-priced lawyers and the NFL’s high-priced lawyers over whether reporter Alan Schwarz and cast got the goods on the league’s fudged research and Big Tobacco game plan.

The story of how Troy Aikman’s and Steve Young’s concussions were omitted from data sets for journal articles (as were up to 10 percent of other professional players’) has been milked for all it’s worth, for years. The importance of this latest (and resumed) Times entry in the Schwarz series of numerical sleight-of-hand rested mostly in the decision to play it as lead story on A1, in a rambling three-byliner affair with two separate and constantly qualified narrative threads.

Perhaps in future years we’ll view this breakthrough as we now do Walter Cronkite, on the CBS Evening News after the Tet offensive, getting out from behind his anchor desk to point viewers to a graphic about what a disaster the Vietnam War had become.

For now, though, we have as follow-up from the Times another front-page article quoting experts (including chronic traumatic encephalopathy glamour face Dr. Ann McKee) on how CTE research remains in its “infancy.”

Still, Times legal did stick it to the NFL’s retraction-demanding saber rattlers at the Paul Weiss law firm. We haven’t had this much fun since ESPN’s late paragon of broadcast bipolarity, Keith Olbermann, was calling them “the National Freefall League.” With positively Trumpian maturity, Independent Football Veterans, a blog of retired players, said the Times “bitch-slapped” the NFL.

What remains to be seen is whether this group, or any like it, gives a damn about the millions of kids as young as five years old who continue to get exposed to tackle football while the major media carry on with name-calling and executive riposte.

Katherine Snedaker, of the advocacy group Pink Concussions, assisted by football historian Matt Chaney, has developed devastating research on how the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 1957 anti-football stance got reversed about a decade later. Concussion Inc. wants to jump into this subject in earnest, with appropriate pointers to Snedaker’s valuable AAP football timeline. But not until next week. We can’t compete with everyone’s enjoyment of the Final Four and WrestleMania. Times v. NFL was an intellectualized version of the latter.

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