Super Bowl Concussion Hype Week, Part 2: What’s the Deal with the NFL and the Journal Neurosurgery?

Super Bowl Concussion Hype Week, Part 1: Los Angeles Times’ NFL Writer Pens a Promo for Riddell Helmets
February 2, 2011
‘FTC Investigation Could Be the Super Bowl for Corrupt NFL Doctors and the National Concussion Crisis’ … today at Beyond Chron
February 7, 2011


“Pittsburgh Steelers’ Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe,”

“NFL Concussion Hype Week, Part 1: Los Angeles Times’ NFL Writer Pens a Promo for Riddell Helmets,”

I don’t think Dr. Joseph Maroon – team neurologist for the Pittsburgh Steelers, National Football League concussion consultant, and medical director for World Wrestling Entertainment – gets off the hook in the Federal Trade Commission investigation of Riddell helmets just by asserting that the company inflated the claims of the assessment of the helmets’ safety in the article Maroon co-authored for Neurosurgery, the journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, a professional group.

Nor do I think Neurosurgery itself gets off the hook for publishing a decade’s worth of research, much of it funded by the NFL, that arguably retarded rather than accelerated professional and public awareness of the magnitude of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and related issues.

I have not received a response to my email to Dr. Nelson Oyesiku of Emory University, the current editor-in-chief of Neurosurgery. (Interestingly, Oyesiku is Nigerian – as is Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered CTE.)

Here are the questions I asked Oyesiku:

1. There is currently a Federal Trade Commission investigation of promotional claims by the Riddell football helmet manufacturer that were based on data in a 2006 article in Neurosurgery.

Does the journal have a comment on this controversy?

Are there historical examples of allegations of exaggerated claims from Neurosurgery-published research by another marketer of a consumer product? I exclude here the categories of professional debates over the efficacy of particular pharmaceuticals, surgical techniques, therapies, and the like; I am referring only to products sold in general consumer markets. If the answer is yes, could you provide some parallel examples?

2. Questions have arisen concerning the relationships of authors of articles published in Neurosurgery with the National Football League.

Particular controversy surrounded work by Dr. Elliot Pellman, then chair of the NFL’s concussion policy committee, with a series of articles, beginning in 2003, in Neurosurgery, which at the time was edited by Dr. Mike Apuzzo, a consultant for the New York Giants. Dr. Robert Cantu, then a senior editor of the journal, suggested that the sample size of the data would not have warranted publication of a similar article about a subject other than football head injuries. And according to reports, Dr. Pellman revised one of the articles post-peer review and prior to publication, and without consulting co-authors. Did the Congress of Neurological Surgeons publish any subsequent correction or clarification? Was any other action taken?

Was this scenario covered by the Congress’s existing code of ethics? If so, in what particular passages? If not, were changes contemplated in the wake of the Pellman episode?

3. Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the Sports Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, was quoted by ESPN as saying, “The data that hasn’t shown up makes [the NFL doctors’ work] questionable industry-funded research.” What is your response to that allegation?

Irv Muchnick

Comments are closed.